Health Issues

Current Health Issues

UI Student Health and Wellness provides health information and recommendations specific to our campus community. You can find information, including current guidelines for UI students, on the  UI Student Health and Wellness website

Preparing to Travel Abroad

Good health is a prerequisite to an enjoyable stay abroad and crucial while you are traveling. You may be exposed to unfamiliar climates, food, medicine, and health care systems. In many cases, a good measure of common sense and a healthy respect for your own body (and its limitations) will help to avoid medical problems. A few preliminary precautions can spare you a good deal of unpleasantness. You can also use the World Health Organization as a resource for more information.

Medical and Dental Checkups

Medical and dental checkups prior to your departure are crucial. Remember: only your physician knows your personal medical history and can advise you if your situation warrants some alteration of the general preventive guidelines outlined here. Frequently, health statements from your doctor are required to obtain a visa to enter your host country, if a visa is required.

Shots and Inoculations

Some countries require immunizations before allowing foreigners in. Some countries require a health screening by a local physician after you arrive in order to allow you to get a temporary residence permit. Your program provider should inform you of any required shots and inoculations prior to departing. To find out about specific inoculations that may be required to enter your host country or countries in which you may wish to travel, consult the travel clinic at the Student Health Service (4189 Westlawn, 319-335-8730). You may also contact the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information hotline at 1-877-394-8747 (toll-free) or see the CDC website.

The CDC specifically recommends a polio booster, as many countries are not free of endemic polio viruses. Tetanus and diphtheria boosters are recommended for all students. Students traveling to the U.K. and Ireland are encouraged to get a meningitis vaccination. You should be immune to measles, mumps and rubella through vaccine or physician-diagnosed cases of these diseases.

If you were born after 1957, you should have received two doses of measles vaccine in order to be immune. A gamma globulin shot is useful against hepatitis and can reinforce your immunity to other diseases. Smallpox is considered by the World Health Organization to be wiped out, but country-to-country regulations change frequently.

Any inoculation should be recorded with the officially approved stamp on the yellow form “International Certificate of Vaccination as Approved by the World Health Organization.” Such forms are available through the Johnson County Health Department and must be properly stamped to be acceptable.

Since many inoculations require more than one visit to the clinic or cannot be taken in combination with others, it is recommended that you begin your inquiries well in advance of your departure.

What to Bring

Medic Alert Emblem

Be sure to wear a Medic Alert emblem (recognized internationally) for a specific medical problem (i.e., asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, food or drug allergies). In how many languages can you convince a nurse that you are allergic to a medication and not just afraid of a needle? Call 1-888-633-4298 for information.

Medical Records

While living and traveling abroad, it is a wise precaution to keep personal medical records with you to be used in case of an accident or illness. A good medical record will mention ALL drugs you are taking, including any not related to disease, and identify any chronic ailments, allergies or hypersensitivities. It will also list your immunization history, blood type, eyeglass prescription, personal physician, health insurance (along with the number of the policy) and, if pertinent, your religion. Be sure to make a photocopy of your medical records in case of loss. Carry these documents in a place that is both secure and accessible by you at all times while traveling.


Prescription Medicine

If you take prescription medication, please refer to the website for prescriptions for complete information on bringing prescriptions abroad.  Generally though,

  • Pack enough medication to last your entire trip, plus a little extra in case you are unexpectedly delayed
    • You might not be able to get your prescriptions refilled while abroad, and it is actually illegal to send prescription medication in the mail, so you can’t even have it sent to you.
  • Carry your medications in their original containers with the original labels
    • You don’t want to create the impression that you’re carrying drugs which haven’t been prescribed to you.
  • Pack your prescriptions in your carry-on bag
    • You don’t want to be without your medication in the event that your checked luggage is lost or delayed
  • Finally, Get a letter from your physician listing your medications, the dosage, their generic names, and why you need them.  You need to do this for two very important reasons:
  1. If you lose your medication, you will have the written list with the generic names which might be the only name the local pharmacist recognizes, as well as the dosage.  If they don’t have the medication, they will at least know why you take it and then might be able to suggest a substitute as well.
  2. More importantly though, some medications are illegal in some countries, and you will need to have proper medical documentation.
  • To prepare yourself, Check with the Local US Embassy to ensure that your medication is legal in your host country
  • If the medication is considered a controlled substance, contact the Local US Embassy in the host country for instructions on what to do.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

If you regularly use any over-the-counter remedies, you may want to take an initial or full-year’s supply. For customs purposes, take all medicines in their original containers.


Syringes can be construed as drug paraphernalia. Bring a doctor’s note if you must bring them.

Staying Healthy Abroad

Monitor your health

Do not exhaust yourself. Moderation will pay off in the long run.

Eat well

This does not mean overspending in expensive restaurants, but it does mean eating a balanced diet.


Vegetarians may find that maintaining a vegetarian diet abroad can be a challenge. It may be difficult to obtain enough quality fruits and vegetables to stay healthy, and meal plans may or may not include vegetarian offerings.

Some tips to help you through:

  • Research the foods offered in your host country. You may wish to bring protein powder, vitamins, and other dietary supplements with you to ensure good nutrition.
  • Talk to other vegetarians who have studied abroad. During orientation, check with the host-country coordinator regarding resources or suggestions to help you maintain your diet.
  • Finally, you may need to find a tactful way to deal with social situations in which you are offered specially prepared meals that include meat.

Food Poisoning

Traveling will bring your body into contact with different bacteria; the change can unsettle your stomach or cause other health problems. Water, including ice cubes, milk, fresh fruit and unwashed, raw vegetables could upset your system until your body adjusts to its new surroundings.

Know where to get medical treatment

Find out where health care facilities are and how to access them.


Take measures to reduce the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. As always, intimate contact could expose you to bacteria or viruses that could lead to infection or contraction of STDs, including HIV.


If you consume alcoholic beverages abroad, do so in moderation. Inebriation can result in poor academic performance, higher risk behavior, and/or regretted sexual activity. In many serious accidents and deaths involving students overseas, excessive alcohol consumption plays a role. Don’t become a statistic.

Health Insurance Information for University of Iowa Education Abroad Participants

The University of Iowa mandates international health insurance for all UI students traveling abroad for education purposes- studying abroad, interning, conducting research, performing a rotation, presenting at a conference, or any other educationally-related activity abroad.  This 'blanket' insurance coverage is provided through Cultural Insurance Service International (CISI). Students can find more information about this coverage on our Health Insurance Information webpage.

Pre-existing Conditions/Treatment Abroad

As part of the mandated international health insurance coverage CISI will cover treatment for pre-existing conditions, and can help connect students to local doctors to help develop appropriate treatment plans.  Students are encouraged to work with their doctor in the US and contact CISI well in advance of their departure date to begin planning for any medical concerns they might have while studying abroad.