Retired singles with an average age of 72 take about 32 million trips annually, according to the Travel Industry Assn., a trade group. More older Americans are traveling than in decades past, and they take their specific health concerns with them.
Some diseases are more severe in people older than 65, travel medicine experts say, and seniors are more likely to have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to ailments such as the flu.
If you're 65-plus and planning to travel, here are some precautions:
Inoculations: Question whether you need a vaccine for yellow fever, a viral hemorrhagic fever transmitted by infected mosquitoes.
"Yellow fever vaccine has a live virus, and your immune system is not as good" as you age, says Dr. Gerald Brennock, an internist in Mission Viejo. "This virus [in the vaccine] can overwhelm you."
For that reason, Brennock and other doctors say they carefully question senior travelers about their destination and their itinerary before giving them a yellow fever vaccine.
It's crucial to look at the risk of an individual, says Dr. Terri Rock, a family practice physician in Santa Monica.
If travelers get off a cruise ship in countries where yellow fever is prevalent, for instance, and plan to go only into cities with no risk of the disease, Rock probably will give them a waiver to present to the cruise lines so they can avoid the vaccine.
Be sure routine immunizations are up to date. Brennock reminds senior travelers to get a flu shot, especially if the destination is in the Southern Hemisphere, where it could be flu season.
"Tetanus should be given as a routine booster every 10 years," Rock says. "But if you get a dirty wound, I advise giving a booster of tetanus" if it's been more than five years since the last dose.
Tetanus, often called lockjaw, is a bacterial disease that affects the nervous system and is contracted through a cut or wound that becomes contaminated with tetanus bacteria.
Consider protecting yourself against other diseases that may affect seniors more severely. Hepatitis A, a viral liver infection spread through contaminated stool, can be deadlier for people older than 50, Brennock says. "After 50, our livers are not the same." He often gives travelers a combination hepatitis A and B vaccine.
Chronic conditions: If you're going to high altitudes and have lung problems, such as emphysema, experts advise you to check with your doctor before your trip.
If you have a pacemaker or a defibrillator, carry the card that confirms that, and take along a copy of your electrocardiogram, Rock advises.
If you have a pacemaker, artificial heart valve, or hip or knee replacements, get advice from your cardiologist, orthopedic specialist or other specialist about what activities you can and can't do, suggests Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine and a consultant for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Medications: Travel-related diseases such as diarrhea can hit the elderly more severely, Kozarsky says. Medications such as Nexium (esomeprazole) for gastroesophageal reflux disease increase the risk of gastrointestinal infection. "Stomach acid is the first barrier to getting an infection; it kills the bacteria," Kozarsky says.
Avoid food and beverages that may be contaminated.*
Healthy Traveler appears every other week. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at kathleen email@example.com.