Prevent the Risk of STDs While Traveling
What happens abroad may not always stay abroad. More than 1 million sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are acquired every day worldwide. You can prevent the risk of STDs when you travel with these healthy tips from CDC Travelers’ Health.
The excitement of being in another country and meeting new people may encourage travelers to do things they would not do at home, such as engaging in unprotected or casual sex with new partners. Travelers who have vaginal, anal, or oral sex are at risk for STDs, many of which may not have visible signs. Many STDs, such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, are treatable, but if left untreated they can cause serious health problems. Some STDs, like herpes and HPV (human papillomavirus) infections, can spread through genital to genital contact and oral sex.
Before You Go
- Make an appointment with a travel medicine specialist or your health care provider to get needed vaccines and medicines, ideally at least 1 month before you leave.
- Consider getting vaccines for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV. Getting vaccinated is one of the most effective methods for preventing these infections.
- Travelers who are at high risk for HIV infection can discuss getting a daily pill that prevents HIV, known as pre-exposure prophylaxis or “PrEP,” with their health care provider. Find out your risk of HIV.
- Pack smart—don’t forget condoms. Condoms in other countries may not be up to US quality standards. Keep them in a dry and cool place (out of direct sunlight) where you can easily get them when needed. And don’t forget to use them!
- Consider travel health or evacuation insurance. An injury or illness that requires invasive medical or dental treatment (such as an injection, transfusion, or stitches) could result in HIV infection or other illnesses if the blood supply is not properly screened and the equipment is not sterile.
- Medical evacuation insurance may cover the cost to transfer you from a remote or poor area to a high-quality hospital where the blood supply is safer and you can get more complete care.
If you are providing medical care in another country, you may be at risk for exposure to infectious diseases, including infections spread through blood and bodily fluids (such as HIV or hepatitis B).
All health care workers should be up to date on their routine vaccinations and those and recommended for their destination.
If you think you may have been exposed to HIV while providing medical care (such as a nurse volunteer drawing blood or medical missionary performing surgeries), you should seek medical attention immediately.
PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is effective in preventing HIV and must be started within 72 hours after a potential exposure.
During Your Trip
- Talk with your partner(s) about recent STD and HIV testing so you are aware of each other’s status before having sex. It might be a little uncomfortable, but you can use these tips to help start the conversationExternal. Don’t assume someone is STD- or HIV-free if they don’t bring it up, or based on how they look. Protecting your health is your responsibility.
- If you have sex, use condoms every time you have vaginal, oral, or anal sex, from start to finish.
- The only sure way to avoid STDs is to not have sex.
- Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin. That includes needles for tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.
- If you feel sick during your trip and think you may have an STD, see a doctor or nurse as soon as possible. For more information, see Getting Health Care Abroad.
- If you receive medical or dental care abroad, make sure the equipment is disinfected or sanitized first.
After You Return
- Get tested when you come back, if you think you may have been exposed to HIV or another STD. Many STDs (including HIV) don’t have symptoms, but they can cause serious health problems if left untreated. The only way to know for sure if you have HIV or another STD is to get tested. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent long-lasting health problems.
- Be open and honest with your health care provider about your sexual history, so he or she can determine the best STD test(s) for you.
- Tell your doctor or nurse about recent international travel, because some STDs, like gonorrhea, may be harder to treat in other countries.
- Getting an STD or HIV is not the end. If you are diagnosed with an STD or HIV, know that all STDs (including HIV) can be treated with medicine, and some can be cured entirely.
- Be honest with your partner. They may also be infected and not know it, and need to get tested and treated.