Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are thrust into the limelight every time a new health issue crops up, whether it be dengue, chikungunya, or, most recently, Zika. But the CDC keeps information on those illnesses, and many more, updated constantly, making it an excellent resource for agents and their clients.

Kelly Holton, communication and education team lead at the Travelers' Health Branch of the CDC, spoke during the recent ASTA Premium Business Summit at the Westin New York at Times Square. She emphasized the resources the CDC makes available to agents.

"At CDC and our travelers' health program, our mission is to reduce illness and injury in U.S. residents who are traveling internationally or living abroad," Holton said. "We are not trying to keep people from traveling. I think that's a really important thing to let you know. 

"Most of us who work in this area are avid travelers, and we really understand the value that travel has in people's lives," she continued. "Our goal is to get people to think about their health when they're planning travel."

According to Holton, the CDC completely updates its medical reference book, the CDC Yellow Book, every two years. She said it is considered a "gold standard" medical reference book. The book is available online and as an app.

It offers a number of resources like pre-travel consultation, advice for travelers, infectious diseases related to travel, destination information, information specific to travelers with special needs and more. As Holton put it, the Yellow Book covers an "exhaustive" amount of topics associated with travel.

The CDC also publishes travel health notices when outbreaks happen around the world. They are broken into three levels, according to Holton. 

The first is "watch," something travelers should be aware of, but they don't need to do anything differently on their trip. That level is intended to heighten awareness, she said.

Level two is "alert," asking travelers to do something they normally wouldn't do. Holton's example was Zika virus: Among other recommendations, the CDC says pregnant women should not travel to destinations where Zika is actively transmitted.

Level three is "warning," covering the most serious health situations, when the CDC recommends avoiding all nonessential travel to a destination (Holton's example was the Ebola outbreak).

The CDC makes shareable fact sheets and infographics on a number of topics that Holton encouraged agents to give to their clients. Most are available in English and Spanish.

There are also two other apps from the CDC that agents and their clients can download, she said. The first, TravWell, is a planning tool to help travelers follow the CDC's guidelines, with features like vaccine recommendations, booster reminders and a health kit packing list based on a traveler's itinerary. Version two of the app, which will include push notifications, is in the works, Holton said.

The second app from the CDC is called Can I Eat This? The app prompts users to select the country they are in and answer a few questions about what they are considering eating or drinking, then tells them whether or not it is likely to be safe.

To sign up for the CDC's email list, visit www.cdc.gov/travel, where a pop-up will prompt you to enter your email address. You can also follow the CDC on Facebook (CDC Travelers' Health) and Twitter (@CDCTravel); it answers questions on both of those channels. It also has a public information line, 1-800-CDC-INFO.

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