TRAVEL HEALTH

Which? in the UK, conducted a survey on 'holiday injury hotspots' in which members related their experiences of a total of 21,230 holidays. It found that 11% of respondents had fallen ill or were injured while travelling in the last twelve months ó with stomach problems taking the number one spot. The ill-health hotspot award went to India, with 52% of visitors travelling there falling ill, followed by 47% of travellers to Peru, and 42% of those who visited Sri Lanka. Moral of the story is to take out travel insurance.

Visit your GP (or ideally a specialist travel doctor) 6 to 12 weeks before you depart, to allow time for the appropriate vaccinations ó some require a series of jabs. Yellow fever vaccine takes 10 days before it works AND the card is forward dated so you can't cheat and travel before then (guess how I know this!). The vaccines you need to get will depend on the country and region youíre visiting, and this is where the expert knowledge of a travel doctor comes in handy. No matter where youíre going, make sure your childhood vaccinations are up to date. This includes tetanus, whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella. If youíre over 65, a travel doctor will advise you to get a pneumonia vaccine before travelling overseas. All travellers should consider the influenza vaccine (flu jab) to lessen the chances of getting struck down in a place where medical care is hard to come by. 

The following list will give you a general idea of what youíre up against in global terms:

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Travelling with medicine

If youíre taking medication, you might want to find out whether itís legal in the country you intend to visit ó contact the countryís embassy or high commission. Itís best to get a letter from your doctor outlining what your medicine is, how much youíll be taking and that itís for your own personal use. Make sure you leave the medicine in its original packaging so itís clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions and ensure you take enough to last the trip, as it may not be available overseas. For more information about travelling with medication, visit Medicare's website: www.medicareaustralia.gov.au.  And be aware that Australia Customs are looking for people carrying too much medicine out of the country (i.e. supporting half of XYZ land with medicines paid for by the Australian PBS subsidy).

If illness strikes

Always carry your insurance companyís emergency assistance card with you and contact the company as soon as you need help ó most insurance companies provide 24-hour advice to travellers. Often your insurer will make arrangements for you to have treatment.

If you suffer from diarrhoea while away (and one doctor we spoke to told us around 50% of travellers fall victim), itís very important to keep hydrated. Seek medical attention if your symptoms last more than four days, if your diarrhoea contains blood, if you have a fever or if symptoms persist after 24 hours for children, the elderly and those with existing stomach problems. A home-made solution of one litre of (clean) plain water with 3 grams table salt (one level teaspoonful) and 18 grams sugar (three tablespoons) can also be made to rehydrate the body.

Itís a good idea to buy a specialised medical travellerís kit from a travel doctor if youíre travelling to areas with poor sanitation. Itíll typically contain re-hydration salts, antibiotics and Loperamide, (a 'stopper' for when you canít afford to be glued to the toilet seat). I also always take a thermometer, so I can get an accurate measure of how sick I am.

If you get sick after returning from overseas, tell your doctor the countries that youíve visited in the last 12 months, since some viral, bacterial or parasitic infections can take between six weeks and a year to incubate.

Checklists are available at http://www.welltogo.com.au/

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Last updated 12 September 2012

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