Visiting friends and relatives abroad
Travellers intending to visit friends and relatives in a foreign country (often referred to as VFRs) are a special group of travellers with unique risk factors and travel patterns. These individuals often travel to destinations with higher disease risks, stay for longer periods of time, are more likely to eat local food in people’s homes and drink untreated water, and are less likely to seek pre-travel advice or to be adequately vaccinated before they leave Canada. Often, these travellers have a different awareness and perception of the risks than tourists travelling to the same destination.
Discuss the immunization history of each family member who will be travelling (including any children) with your health care provider to ensure that routine vaccines recommended in Canada are up-to-date. Your health care provider will determine if any vaccines are required or recommended for your travel destination.
Some individuals, including children, older travellers and those who are immunocompromised, are at a higher risk of illness. A health care provider will be able to provide personalized advice to help protect their health.
Be aware of the current local situation: consult the Travel Advice and Advisories for the country you are visiting to learn about the political and security situation, as well as any disease risks and how you could reduce your risk of contracting them.
- Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease and is spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. Travellers visiting friends and relatives, especially children, are more likely than tourist travellers to be infected with malaria. Travellers who were born in or lived in a country with malaria transmission may believe they are immune to the disease, but once they move away they lose their immunity and are just as much at risk of getting malaria as any other visitor.
- If you are travelling to areas with a risk of malaria, discuss your travel plans with a health care provider to determine if anti-malaria medication is recommended. If medication is recommended, purchase it in Canada before travelling to ensure the safety and quality of the medication.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites while travelling.
- It is important to follow your health care provider’s advice and instructions even if the friends and family you are visiting do not take any anti-malarial medication or precautions to prevent insect bites.
- If you develop a fever while travelling or for up to one year after travel to regions at risk of malaria, seek medical attention immediately. Be sure to tell your health care provider where you have been travelling or living.
Food- and water-borne diseases
- If you are travelling to visit friends and relatives, you are more likely to eat local food and be exposed to untreated water, which puts you at a greater risk for food and water-borne diseases.
- You do not have the same immunity to local bacteria as the people you will be visiting and only some food-borne diseases (hepatitis A and typhoid) can be prevented with vaccines.
- To help reduce your risk of food- and water-borne diseases, be careful with what you eat and drink and wash your hands frequently.
- Before you travel, talk to a health care provider about prevention and treatment options for travellers’ diarrhea.
- Protect yourself against insect bites and take precautions in the water as certain countries may have risk of diseases that are spread by insects or by parasites in the water.
- Take precautions against illnesses that are transmitted from person to person, for example tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (including HIV).
- Accidents are one of the most common health risks during travel. Take appropriate precautions with regards to local travel including using seat belts, bringing or ensuring the availability of car seats for children, and avoiding travelling on roads at night.
- Pack a travel health kit and purchase travel health insurance.
- Register with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service so Canadian consular officials can contact you in case of an emergency. It is a quick, simple and free service that is also accessible on mobile devices.
- Monitor your health. If you are sick after you return home, see a health care provider and tell them where you have travelled.
- Statement on international travellers who intend to visit friends and relatives, Committee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel (CATMAT), Public Health Agency of Canada
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