For people living with HIV, travel can pose specific risks. You may need to take extra care. Travel, especially to developing countries, can raise your risk for infections. Some of these infections are referred to as opportunistic infections. That's because a person's weakened immune system gives the infection the opportunity to develop. The risk varies by your CD4 cell count. People at highest risk are those with a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per cubic millimeter, especially if their HIV viral load is not well controlled.
If you have HIV, follow these special precautions when you travel:
Talk with your healthcare provider or a travel medicine expert as early as possible about the health risks that are in the places you plan to visit. Your healthcare provider can offer suggestions about staying healthy in places where certain illnesses may pose special threats. Ask for or look up online the names of healthcare providers who treat HIV in the regions you plan to visit, just in case.
During travel to developing countries, people living with HIV are at a much higher risk for food and waterborne disease than they are in the U.S. Take extra steps to avoid any uncooked foods. Make sure all water is either boiled or bottled.
Traveler's diarrhea is a common problem. Carry a 3- to 7-day supply of medicine to treat it. Talk with your healthcare provider about medicine that is right for you.
Waterborne infections may also result from swallowing or even being exposed to some bodies of water during recreational activities. Reduce your risk of these infections by being careful not to swallow water while swimming. Don't swim or wade in water that may be contaminated.
Protect yourself against insect-borne diseases in places where this is a problem. Use insect repellents with DEET and mosquito-netting treated with permethrin while sleeping in places where malaria, dengue fever, or other insect-borne diseases are common. People living with HIV are urged to stay away from areas where yellow fever is found. You may not be able to safely get the yellow fever vaccine if your CD4 count is low.
Tuberculosis is very common worldwide. It can be very serious in people living with HIV. Wear a high filtration mask if you are around people with tuberculosis. Stay away from hospitals and clinics where tuberculosis patients are being treated. Be sure to be tested after you return to the U.S.
While away, keep taking all your medicines as directed. Make sure you bring enough to last throughout your trip. Also bring written prescriptions for refills in case of emergency. It is a good idea to bring more than enough of your essential medicines to prepare for unexpected delays that could affect your return date.
If you are on a special diet, stick to your meal plan as much as possible while traveling.
Take all of the same precautions that you take at home to prevent transmitting HIV to others. Be aware that exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and new strains of HIV are common if you are sexually active without condoms, especially in developing countries.
Ask your healthcare provider about special vaccines that may be needed before you travel. Make sure all of your routine immunizations are up-to-date. This is especially important for children living with HIV who are traveling.
There are other special considerations for vaccines. In general, killed virus vaccines are safe for people living with HIV. But they may not have optimal effectiveness when CD4 cell counts are low. You should not get live virus vaccines if you have low CD4 cell counts. Certain diseases pose special risks. Review your itinerary thoroughly with your healthcare provider to assess places that may be unsafe to visit.