Nurses promote healthy travel

Postcards from grateful travelers arrive at TravelWise continuously.  “They’re from people who came for our personalized TravelWise consultation, four to six weeks before their departure,” said Mary Ellen Porrata, a community health and wellness nurse. “They tell us that suggestions from TravelWise helped keep them safe and happy.”

TravelWise is one of the many services that RVNA, the Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association, is known for. Serving 19 towns, including Wilton, RVNA is about to celebrate its 100th year.

Travel health nurse Margarita Garces-Shapiro, and nurse Geri Schneider, along with Ms. Porrata, are the TravelWise team of experts. They’ve researched the most current information about travel risks: airborne and insect-borne diseases, foreign foods, drinking water, road conditions and weather, and nearby medical facilities. RVNA is  designated yellow fever center endorsed by the government with the most recent data on immunizations.

According to the nurses, the key to a safe, healthy trip is a personalized consultation. No two travelers are the same. They may be going to the same place, but require individual protection. This calls for a review of medical history, allergies, medications being used, previous travel experience, physical abilities and details about destination.

“There’s lots of confusing information around,” the nurses said. “Just being handed a printout of warnings isn’t sufficient. We’ve had people come in and tell us they need 12 immunizations when they actually only needed two.”

Travelers are advised to schedule a consultation four to six weeks before departure so their travel plans can be thoroughly researched, whether the destination is Nepal, Kenya, Peru, Mexico or anywhere. Students and short-term travelers planning a two-week vacation to an exotic place may only need advice about insect protection, food warnings and climate. People traveling for business may need precautionary hepatitis or tetanus shots. There are five countries where polio is still a problem.

TravelWise often goes beyond the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization guidelines.

“We’re seeing older travelers more and more,” Ms. Garces-Shapiro said. “People in their 70s and 80s want the travel adventures they’ve never had time for. That requires specific knowledge about immunizations, clothing, transportation.

“We have travelers coming back year after year for consultations. Are they bungee jumpers or on a guided tour? If you’ll be mountain climbing, you may need a high altitude specialist. We have reliable referrals for specific needs.”

“Our purpose is to educate,” the nurses continued. “Anything from traveler’s diarrhea to malaria can ruin a trip. They can be prevented. Clients tell us they wouldn’t go anywhere without seeing us first, whether they’re planning to teach English to Buddhist monks in Laos, work in an orphanage in South Africa, on a mission trip to India or an elephant refuge in Kenya.”

RVNA is at 90 East Ridge in Ridgefield. To prevent health problems when traveling, call TravelWise at RVNA at least four to six weeks before departure at 203-438-5555.