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Travel for People with HIV

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 called opportunistic infections. That's because a person's weakened immune system gives the infection an easier chance 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 cells 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. Meet with your providers 4 to 6 weeks before you plan to leave. 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 places you plan to visit, just in case.

  • Take extra steps to avoid uncooked foods. 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. All water should be either boiled or bottled.

  • Carry a 3- to 7-day supply of medicine to treat traveler's diarrhea. Talk with your healthcare provider about medicine that is right for you.

  • Watch out for waterborne infections. These can happen from swallowing or even being exposed to some bodies of water during recreational activities. Reduce your risk for 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 or another EPA-registered repellant. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts treated with permethrin in places where malaria, dengue fever, or other insect-borne diseases are common. Use mosquito netting treated with permethrin while sleeping in places where insect-borne diseases are a problem. 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.

  • Wear a high-filtration mask if you are around people with tuberculosis (TB). TB is very common worldwide. It can be very serious in people living with HIV. Stay away from hospitals and clinics where tuberculosis patients are being treated. Get tested after you return to the U.S.

  • Take all your medicines as directed while you are away. 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. This helps you to be prepared 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 the same precautions that you take at home so you won't transmit 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.

  • Review your medical insurance for coverage it provides while you are traveling. Take proof of coverage with you. You may be able to buy supplemental insurance coverage for emergency medical care if needed while traveling.

Vaccine information for people with HIV

Ask your healthcare provider about special vaccines that may be needed before you travel. Check that all your routine vaccines are up to date with booster doses as needed. This is especially important for children living with HIV who are traveling.

There are other special concerns for vaccines. In general, killed virus vaccines are safe for people living with HIV. But they may not work as well when CD4 cell counts are low. Don't 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.