Minimise the risk of sickness
Whether it’s a quick jaunt to Bali or a months-long adventure up the Amazon, something that should never be overlooked when planning a trip is how to stay healthy.
Different destinations come with new and varied health hazards, all of which could not only make your trip less enjoyable and more expensive but take a serious toll on your future health and may even threaten your life.
To avoid having your holiday hijacked by illness or injury, the best place to start is a visit to your GP at least eight weeks before departure for a general health check and discussion about the known risks at your destination and what, if any, vaccines might be required.
The locations you plan to visit and your length of stay will influence whether or not you need some of the vaccines, so giving your doctor as much information about your holiday plans as possible is important.
Some vaccines are compulsory and are an entry requirement for certain countries. In parts of Africa and South America the yellow fever vaccine is required, as is the meningitis vaccine in Saudi Arabia at the time of the Hajj.
Other vaccines that may be advised by your doctor, especially if you are visiting a developing country, can include hepatitis A, typhoid, rabies, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, meningitis, encephalitis, tick-borne encephalitis and cholera.
Whenever you travel it is good practice to ensure all your childhood vaccines are up to date. The flu vaccine is recommended.
Of course there are deadly contagious diseases for which there are no vaccines, including ebola currently causing great concern in West Africa and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Both have been the subject of bulletins issued on the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website, which also lists specific health warnings for all countries.
If travelling to areas affected by these diseases, educate yourself about the known sources of the contagions and avoid them, practise a high standard of hygiene and, if you experience symptoms, seek medical help.
Even in developed countries similar to Australia, such as those in North America and Europe, there are risks to your health that should be weighed up and managed.
One that presents a challenge before you have even arrived is deep-vein thrombosis, or “economy-class syndrome”, on a long-haul flight to the northern hemisphere.
The risk of DVT, a blood clot that forms in the veins of the leg and can cause a pulmonary embolism and prove fatal, is higher among some people, including those who are overweight or obese, have coronary heart disease, are smokers or who are pregnant.
And while there is still some controversy as to whether flying contributes directly to DVT, it is wise to err on the side of prevention by doing seat exercises, taking opportunities to move about the cabin when possible, drinking water and perhaps wearing compression stockings or socks.
Those at high risk should discuss additional measures with their GP which may include prophylactic anticoagulants.
Wherever you are going, but most especially if your destination is a developing country, good hygiene is your first line of defence against disease.
Wash your hands well, especially if you have been in contact with animals.
Avoid tap water and ice and be careful where you eat: go to restaurants that appear clean and popular and don’t eat food from street vendors. Uncooked foods, including seafood, eggs, salads and fruit that can’t be peeled, can be risky.
Disease-carrying mosquitoes are the source of a number of serious health complaints including malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and chikungunya virus, so if your holiday locale is known for mosquitoes make sure you wear light-coloured, loose, long-sleeved clothing and apply tropical-strength insect repellent to exposed areas of skin.
Use of mosquito nets and spraying indoor sleeping areas with insecticides may also be helpful.
Being on holiday should not mean taking a break from the normal safety measures you’d take at home.
Wear a helmet if you’re riding a scooter and do not drive drunk, wear a condom if you are planning to have sex with someone new, be wary of having tattoos and piercings in developing countries and only drink mixed cocktails if you can be sure they are safe.
The recent death of Perth man from altitude sickness while holidaying in South America is a tragic reminder that it is not just vaccines, hygiene and mosquitoes travellers need to educate themselves about when planning for their destination.
Looking after your health on holiday
- Take out travel insurance and ensure you are covered for any pre-existing conditions and activities that you plan to undertake while on holiday.
- Pack a medicine kit that includes the usual bandaids and headache tablets but also any regular medication you may be taking, diarrhoea medication, oral rehydration sachets, antibiotics, Stingose spray or gel and antihistamines.
- If you plan to take prescription medicine with you, carry a doctor’s letter with the details of what it is, what it’s for and make sure you keep the medicine in its original packaging.
- When you are planning your trip find out where the nearest health facilities are to your accommodation and who to phone in an emergency.
- If you become sick in the weeks following your return, make sure you let health professionals know as this may have implications for diagnosis.
© The West Australian
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