Flying with the flu: How study-abroad students handle sickness

Students who are sick abroad can contact resources such as the CISI and ISO which are available 24/7

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Upper respiratory infections and fever are common cases of illness for students traveling abroad. 

Zoe Ziff | Cavalier Daily

During the summer, students often choose to spend their time traveling abroad through one of University-affiliated programs in many countries such as Germany, Portugal, South Africa or even China. Although a change of environment can be daunting, less than one percent of over 3,500 students who travelled abroad for University-related purposes have reported an injury or illness that required a health care professional’s treatment during the 2017-18 school year. 

For these emergencies and illnesses, the University requires that all students traveling abroad for University-related activities must be aware of local medical resources. 

According to Catarina Krizancic, international health, safety and security manager in the International Studies Office, Dr. Anjali Silva, assistant director for travel services and Dudley Doane, director of international, summer and special academic programs, the University provides both pre-departure and on-site orientation sessions to provide a list of regional medical resources along with local 911-equivalent contact information. 

“Although students enrolled in an education abroad program or hosted by a local organization may seek direction/assistance from program or host organization staff in the event of illness or injury, they should also know how to access health care services independently as a result of pre-departure orientation and resources like the Education Abroad Handbook,” Krizancic, Silva and Dudley said in an email. 

Additionally, all students traveling abroad for University-related purposes are required to purchase an international health insurance program, offered through the Cultural Insurance Services International. 

CISI insurance provides medical coverage and a safety net in case of civil instability and natural disasters. It is specifically designed for student travelers and according to Krizancic, Silva and Doane, is included in the University-administered education program.

They said the most common cases of illness and injury abroad are traveler’s diarrhea, rashes or skin problems, fever and upper respiratory infections, depending on the destination. 

Jacob Olander, a rising third-year College student who was sick abroad, said that this insurance was sufficient and felt that the University supported him enough during his time of need. 

“CISI essentially covers anything and ensures that students that are studying abroad don't have to pay a deductible,” Olander said in an email. “I also believe they provide a 24-hour telephone line for emergencies.”

He also mentioned that he advises students to be sure to take care of themselves if illness strikes. 

“My advice would be to try to not be too hard on yourself,” he said. “Illness strikes us when we least expect it, and it's most important to ensure that you are putting your health first and foremost. Although you may not be able to participate in every single cultural aspect of the country you find yourself in, you can still enjoy the small things every day that contribute to greater cultural understanding.”

When students need help abroad, they can contact the CISI or International Studies Office, both of which are available at all times. Krizancic, Silva and Doane advise that the first contact, however, should be the in-country staff that works with the student’s program.

“We encourage students to talk with local friends and partners as well, at least to let them know when they are not feeling well, but they should remember that visitors can be susceptible to health issues that residents are not,” Krizancic, Silva and Doane said in an email. 

They also advised that students should seek attention for symptoms early since the stresses of travel can worsen his or her illness. 

Additional concerns while abroad remain water- and food-borne illnesses, proper immunizations around contagious diseases and working to manage current health conditions. So the University encourages students to make sure their immunizations are up-to-date and take the time to review travel health recommendations for their travel destination. 

Students interested in learning more can contact the University Student Health International Travel Clinic, which also works with students whose travel is not for University-related purposes. 

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