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Traveling with HIV

For people with HIV, travel can pose specific risks. According to the CDC, travel, especially to developing countries, can increase the risk of contracting opportunistic infections. These infections are referred to as opportunistic because a person's weakened immune system gives the infection the opportunity to develop. The risk varies according to the CD4 cell count. People at highest risk are those with a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per cubic millimeter or a history of an AIDS-related illness.    

Special precautions that should be taken if you are traveling with HIV include the following:

  • Talk with your healthcare provider or a travel medicine expert as early as possible about the health risks that exist in the areas you plan to visit. Your healthcare provider can offer suggestions about staying healthy in places where certain illnesses may pose special threats. Ask for names of healthcare providers who treat HIV in the regions you plan to visit.

  • During travel to developing countries, people infected with HIV are at a much higher risk for food and waterborne disease than they are in the United States. Take extra precautions 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 for more information on appropriate medicine 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. Avoid swimming or wading in water that may be contaminated.

  • Take precautions against insect-borne diseases in areas where this is a problem. Use insect repellents with DEET and mosquito-netting treated with permethrin while sleeping in areas where malaria, dengue fever, or other insect-borne diseases are prevalent. People with HIV infections are urged to avoid areas where yellow fever is found.

  • Tuberculosis is very common worldwide and can be very serious in people with HIV. Avoid hospitals and clinics where tuberculosis patients are treated. Be sure to be tested when you return to the United States.

  • Take all medicines as prescribed by your healthcare provider. Make sure you bring enough to last throughout your trip and written prescriptions for refills in case of emergency.

  • 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.

Immunization information for people with HIV

Ask your healthcare provider about special vaccines that may be necessary before you travel. Make sure all of your routine immunizations are up-to-date. This is especially important for children with HIV who are traveling.

There are other special considerations regarding vaccines. In general, killed virus vaccines are safe for people with HIV; however, they may not have optimal effectiveness when CD4 cell counts are very low. Live virus vaccines should be avoided by people with advanced HIV and low CD4 cell counts. Certain diseases pose special risks, so review your itinerary thoroughly with your healthcare provider to assess areas that may be dangerous to visit.

Talk with your healthcare provider or the CDC for more information regarding specific immunizations you may need before you travel.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kolbus, Karin, RN, DNP, COHN-S
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2016
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.