Advice for travellers

Advice for travellers – written by Dr Hilary Jones – www.netdoctor.co.uk

Planning your trip

Before you go, make sure you’re aware of the potential dangers of your destination.
Before you book your trip find out about the place you are visiting. What is the climate like? Is it at high altitude? Is it in a war zone? Is malaria endemic in the region? Is the water drinkable?

People often book a holiday to far-flung places on a complete whim – and later wonder why they had to return with a nurse via an air ambulance.

Organise immunisation

Ask your doctor as early as possible about the need for any vaccinations for the countries you are visiting.

If you are backpacking in some rural areas, you may need vaccinations given at different times so give at least eight weeks notice to your doctor so the entire course can be completed in good time.

Tetanus, polio and other boosters may be a minimum requirement, but cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and hepatitis B, yellow fever and other less routine jabs could also be needed depending on your destination.

Malaria protection is vital when travelling to North Africa and Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, South East Asia, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Pregnancy

Enjoy your last opportunity for a while to holiday without a baby, but avoid risking your health.

Ideally, avoid malaria and yellow fever zones because anti-malarial tablets, yellow fever and the live vaccine to prevent it are all potentially hazardous in women who are expecting. The best time to travel is between 12 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, which avoids the risky periods for miscarriage and premature labour. For this reason, some airlines refuse to carry women are more than 36 weeks pregnant. Check for exclusions in your travel insurance.

Current health problems

If you have any health problems of any kind or if you take any medication prior to booking a holiday, discuss your plans with your doctor first.
For example, older holidaymakers can obtain excellent information from Age Concern about health issues abroad.

Diabetes and people with epilepsy can take extra precautions and supplies when they leave. The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR) publish ‘Holidays for disabled people’ and ‘Holidays and travel abroad’ – handbooks that make life simple.

Take precautions

Protecting your skin from sunburn reduces the risk of future skin cancer. Everyone should use high sun protection factor lotion (SPF 15 or above) combined with a four star rating for UVA protection, and this is especially important for children.

So SLIP on a shirt, SLAP on a hat and SLOP on the sunscreen.

Anyone even thinking of indulging in casual sex should carry and use condoms to prevent the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS or unplanned pregnancy.

The elderly and children must remember they are more vulnerable to extremes of heat and cold.

Avoiding travellers’ diarrhoea

If food hygiene standards are low, always opt for freshly prepared, piping hot food where any meat is cooked right through.

Avoid tap water (and ice cubes) and salads and peel all fruit. Shellfish are risky unless very fresh and properly cooked, and avoid buffet food left out to the mercy of flies.
Drink fizzy bottled water and only buy ice-cream from a reliable supplier.

Take baby food with you and always boil baby’s water to sterilise it.
If you do experience abdominal pain, vomiting ortravellers’ diarrhoea, sip oral rehydration solution (1 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt, or a sachet of Dioralyte, in a glass of sterile water) until symptoms improve.

Pack a good first aid kit

Include – antiseptic, plasters and dressings, painkillers, insect repellant, calamine lotion, oral rehydration salts, lipsalve and sunscreen.

For babies, also pack the extras that any normal baby could need back at home as local supplies may not be available.

Insurance

Obtain and read the free booklet ‘Health advice for travellers’ available from the Post Office. UK residents are entitled to free or subsidised healthcare when visiting countries in the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, but to be covered you need to have a completed and valid E111 form with you. If you’re travelling in Europe make sure you’ve got one of the new style forms that are issued to each member of your family. The old E111 form that used to cover your whole family became invalid on 31st December 2004.

Always take out private medical travel insurance too, which pays for treatment in all countries and repatriates you if necessary.

Keeping cool

Holidays can be hazardous and stressful too. But with any luck, by following the advice given here you should come back healthy, relaxed and happy!