Travel Health FAQs
- What are the health risks of travelling abroad?
- What parts of the world should I prepare for in particular?
- Will I be able to take medications with me?
- Should I consider getting travel insurance?
- What vaccinations should I get before travelling?
- What should I do if I become ill on my holiday?
- How can I prevent conditions such as malaria?
- How can I prevent traveller's diarrhoea?
- How can I protect myself against sunburn?
- What do I need to pack in my traveller's first aid kit?
Travelling has many risks associated with it, which includes infectious diseases, diarrhoea as well as illnesses caused by exposure to heat and the sun. Most of these can be avoided by ensuring that you take the right precautions, such as taking malaria tablets before planning on going into an area where there is an elevated risk and having the right items in your travel first aid kit.
Travelling abroad is a risk no matter where you go, but these risks tend to be more pronounced when people travel from a developed country to a developing country. Illnesses such as traveller's diarrhoea, heat stroke and sun burn are also more likely to affect who live in a colder climate who visits a warmer country.
Malaria tends to be a higher risk in particular parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Central America, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
This is largely dependent on the country you are travelling to, as some medications may not be allowed in some countries while in other's it's perfectly acceptable. It's a good idea to do your research first, or even contact your destination country's embassy. However, most countries shouldn't have a problem with people bringing anti-malarial or diarrhoea medications into the country.
It's also a good idea to contact the airline you are travelling with to find out whether you are allowed to travel with your medication in your hand luggage. If you have a serious medical condition for which you need special medication, it's best to get a letter from your doctor before you travel and have a copy of your prescription handy if possible, in case of an emergency.
Travel insurance is always a good idea and luckily most policies aren't costly. Some companies enable you to arrange temporary travel insurance or you may want to choose a more long-term option. Some banks also offer travel insurance as part of a bank account, but it's important to make sure that you read your policy properly to make sure that you are covered in every likely eventuality. Holidays where you intend on partaking in adventure sports may require more bespoke travel insurance policies.
Make sure that you keep a copy of your travel insurance policy as well as a travel insurance reference number in your main luggage, as well as in your hand luggage.
The types of vaccinations you'll need on your holiday will largely depend on the destination of your choice. Vaccinations could be for diseases like polio, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis B or A, Japanese encephalitis or yellow fever. Make sure you speak to your doctor a couple of weeks before you travel as some vaccinations can take time to administer or may not be available on the NHS.
If you have taken all the necessary precautions and you still fall ill on your holiday, it's important to know how to find the right kind of help, even if you are intending on self-medicating. Doing your research before-hand and finding your nearest hospital or clinic is a good idea, details on this can be found in the International Society of Travel Medicine website. You should also keep details of your travel insurance company and/or travel agents to hand and contact them, as they may also be able to guide you on the best places to seek treatment. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's number can also be kept to hand, as they will be able to contact your family in an emergency.
Apart from ensuring that you are taking the correct anti-malarial treatments, if you are travelling into a malaria zone, you should also take additional precautions to lower your risk of getting malaria. This means avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite, with the help of mosquito nets and insect repellents. Also avoid leaving doors and windows open that don't have screens and rather switch on the air conditioning. Wearing loose fitting long sleeved clothes instead of shorts and T-shirts reduces the surface of the skin that's exposed.
If you are travelling to a destination where traveller's diarrhoea is likely to be a risk, it's a good idea to stay away from tap water (even ice cubes), uncooked meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and seafood. Also ensure that you only drink drinks that are in sealed containers.
It's estimated that half of traveller's from the UK to warmer countries suffer from sunburn or heat related illnesses. To stop too much sun and heat from spoiling your holiday, it's advised that you make sure you keep yourself hydrated and limit the amount of time you spend outside in the sun. Also ensure that you wear sunscreen that can block out both UVA and UVB rays and that you top it up every time you get out of the water.
Your traveller's first aid kit may vary depending on your destination, but there are a few basics that always need to be included: bandages, plasters, zinc oxide tape, tape, sterile wound dressings, gauze, cotton buds, antiseptic lotion and liquid, scissors, a thermometer, safety pins and cotton buds.