If you are HIV positive and are planning a trip or a vacation, you will need to add one more thing to your already long list of things to do. Anyone with a chronic disease has to consider their health when traveling, and HIV is no exception. You must give some thought to your HIV treatment and the medications that you are taking before you pack up and leave.
This article will focus mainly on travel within the United States, although I will briefly touch on a few special considerations regarding international travel. If you will be traveling internationally, you should find out in advance if the country you are planning to travel to has any restrictions on entry for people who are HIV positive; many countries, including the United States, ban people with HIV from entering. Discuss your travel plans with your doctor to determine if any special precautions or vaccinations will be necessary. You should be up to date with your influenza, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, and hepatitis A and B vaccines. If you are traveling across international time zones, you may want to ask your healthcare provider, adherence counselor, or pharmacist to help you work out a plan for adjusting the times of your dosages to avoid long intervals between doses. Find out in advance where you would go if you were to require medical care, and check into getting travel insurance that does not exclude emergency treatment for HIV related illnesses. If you are fortunate enough to be going to a warm and sunny place, check with your pharmacist if any of your medications cause an increased sensitivity to the sun, and bring lots of sunscreen with you.
Discuss your plans to travel with your healthcare provider, and ask for a brief medical letter to carry with you. At the very least, you should have a copy of your latest blood work results, including your CD4 cell count and HIV viral load. Do not start any new medications within 4 weeks prior to traveling in case you should have an allergic reaction.
It is important to remember that taking a vacation does not mean that you take a “vacation” from your medications. As you have undoubtedly heard many times from your healthcare provider, anything less than 95% – 100% adherence to your medications may result in your HIV becoming resistant to your medications, which will cause them to stop working. Whenever your usual schedule and routine is changed, it will take a little bit of extra thought and planning to ensure that you are able to stay on track with your medications.
Whenever you travel, be sure to bring enough of all of your medications with you, as it may be impossible to get these medications when you are away from home. Count out your doses, and take several days worth of extra medications with you in case you get delayed or decide to lengthen your trip. Pack your medications in your carry-on luggage to avoid losing it. You should also carry a letter from your doctor listing your medications and stating that they are being taken for a chronic medical condition.
You may want to invest in some pillboxes to help you to stay on track. Consider prefilling a 7-day pillbox for each week that you will be away, and take along a few tiny single dose pillboxes that you can discreetly carry in your pocket or purse; this will be especially helpful if you will be spending time with people who are unaware of your HIV status.
Do a little bit of planning in advance, and then enjoy your vacation.