Around a quarter of the population go on holiday abroad every year – and around a quarter of those will fall ill or suffer from some kind of medical condition while overseas. So what precautions can you take to avoid this happening? What should you pack in case it does? And how can you ensure that you’ll get the right kind of care overseas without it costing you a fortune in medical bills?
This article offers you travel health advice, and is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
There are many diseases that are commonplace overseas which UK travellers have no natural immunity against. These include yellow fever, malaria, typhoid, rabies, and dengue fever to name but a few. To protect yourself against infection, you will need to be vaccinated well in advance of your trip.
You can find out which travel vaccinations are required for the country you’re travelling to by visiting the Department of Health website and the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Your GP will also be able to advise you on the latest recommended travel vaccinations and supply you with the necessary course of treatment. However, you will need to pay for this treatment yourself as it is not covered by the NHS.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition and need to take medication with you, you should make sure you take a copy of your prescription, signed by your GP. You may also need to carry a letter from your GP explaining your condition, to help overseas doctors in the case of an emergency. You should make sure you have enough medication to last the trip, as well as any delays on your return journey. You should also check that your medication is legal in the country you’re visiting.
In addition to your regular medication, you should also consider stocking up on antiseptic cream, diarrhoea pills, antihistamines and a sterile first aid pack, as these items may not be readily available in some countries or remote areas.
Travel insurance - The EHIC
With healthcare free at the point of delivery in the UK, it is easy to forget that this is almost unique in the world. In other countries, even a simple accident or mild illness can result in a bill for hundreds or even thousands of pounds. That’s why it’s essential that you take out adequate travel insurance for your trip. You should also ensure your travel insurance policy covers you for whatever activities you have planned – such as diving or winter sports, etc. – as many standard policies will exclude such activities.
British travellers visiting countries within the European Economic Area should also carry a European Health Insurance Card. This entitles you to free treatments in any of the EEA countries, plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The card is available free of charge and is valid for up to five years. Each member of your party, including children, will need their own card. You can apply by phone, by post, or online.
If you are pregnant you should also complete form E112, which is available from the department of health.
The vast majority of illnesses abroad can be avoided if you take just a few sensible precautions to protect yourself from risk. For example, you should always pack a high factor sunscreen to protect you from burning, along with and a good quality aftersun cream to moisturise your skin after exposure to strong sun. A wide brimmed hat will also help to protect you from sunstroke.
Carrying UK bought condoms is also a sensible precaution, as locally bought equivalents may not be of the same quality or offer the same protection from STDs.
Since many diseases are carried by mosquitoes, insect repellent sprays, creams and repellent devices for your hotel room are well worth investing in. In countries with a serious mosquito problem, you should be offered a net to sleep under, but these are often old and well used, so you should carry a small sewing kit to repair any holes.
It may seem like there’s a lot to consider when preparing for a holiday abroad, but even the most thorough preparation takes less time and is less stressful than the consequences (and considerable cost) of travelling unprepared and falling ill. So take the travel health advice - don’t let illness spoil your holiday fun - get your shots, do your shopping and make sure you’re safe.