Q&A with Travel Health Pharmacist Carlene Oleksyn
Carlene Oleksyn has been Director of the Travel Clinic in Stony Plain for the past 6 years. She received her certificate from the International Society of Travel Medicine in 2015 and started practicing in travel health to meet a need in her community.
There was no local travel clinic offering immunization and health services to those travelling internationally, meaning most people had to travel into downtown Edmonton to public health if they wanted travel health services such as vaccination.
As a direct result of this barrier and inconvenience in accessing travel health advice, Carlene had begun to notice that many travellers were not receiving pre-travel vaccines and education before their trip, which held many dangerous implications such as when a traveller had become infected quite seriously with malaria and almost lost his life to the disease.
Q: Carlene, so many people travel at this time of year. Why is it important to see a travel health pharmacist before my vacation?
A: A travel health pharmacist spends time with a traveller before their trip to go over all the health related risks associated with their upcoming trip, providing them with the key information they need to have to decide for themselves what type of protection they need and want prior to travel.
Most people tend to think of travel health as only involving vaccines and medications, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the information and education discussed during a travel health consultation are equally as important as it allows a traveller to make their own educated and informed decisions about how they want to protect themselves during their actual trip.
Our role really is to ensure as much as possible our travellers remain healthy while travelling so their trip is not interrupted with unexpected illness, and to also avoid serious diseases that could impact their health once they return home.
Q: It sounds like travel health pharmacists play a big role in keeping people healthy during their trips.
What are some of the most important pieces of advice you discuss during a travel health visit?
A: Though it’s true that during a travel consultation, we look at diseases that can be prevented with vaccines (and vaccinate when needed), what many travellers don’t realize is that many diseases cannot always be prevented with vaccines.
So, one of the most important pieces of advice we discuss during a travel health visit is the education on how to avoid these diseases and how to treat them if they do become exposed or infected. We also go over traveller’s diarrhea and other illnesses that could happen during a trip to ensure our travellers have a safe and healthy trip.
Becoming sick when travelling can ruin vacations and experiences that people have spent a lot of time and money to plan and so, our goal is to prevent this from happening.
Q: Wow, it sounds like there’s a lot more to travel health than just vaccines.
What piece of travel health advice often comes as the greatest surprise to your patients?
A: The risk of rabies when travelling is something that almost all our travellers are surprised about. Rabies is 100% fatal to humans, and learning how to prevent it and what to do if possibly exposed is critical to the traveller. Health care in many countries around the world is not equipped to handle such an emergency as a dog or monkey bite. We make sure travellers have a plan in place in case of a life-threatening exposure.
Q: That does come off as a surprise. So, how soon should someone get consulted before traveling to ensure they’re protected before their trip?
A: Ideally we like to see travellers at least a month before travelling.
This allows us to ensure any boosters if vaccines can be completed. However, even travellers leaving with very short notice benefit immensely from a travel consultation as some vaccines and medications can be started even the day before getting on the plane!
Q: That’s great to know. With so many pharmacists having the ability to prescribe and inject in Alberta, can ANY pharmacist offer travel health advice?
A: While any prescribing pharmacist or doctor could provide travel vaccines, seeing a pharmacist that is certified through the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM) is a guarantee that they are practicing at an international standard of care, recognized worldwide as travel clinicians.
Unfortunately, I have seen over the years many travellers receiving incorrect vaccines for their trip from well-meaning pharmacists or doctors who simply haven’t got the experience needed to see the error.
At Mint Health + Drugs: Meridian, we have a team of ISTM certified pharmacists with over 20 years combined experience with travel health and vaccination services.
Q: It sounds like travellers should be cautious of where they go for travel health advice.
How can someone get travel advice from you or your team of ISTM certified pharmacists before their next trip?
A: Travel consultations can be booked through our website, our mobile APP (available on Android and iOS) or by calling the Mint Health + Drugs: Meridian Pharmacy + Travel Clinic directly. We run appointments most days of the week and can even accommodate travellers who are leaving on short notice.