Your Doctor

Top Travel Health Tips

UK holidaymakers take approximately 72.8 million visits overseas a year and spend around £44.8 billion pounds a year on holidays, but we are not always savvy about our health when planning and going abroad. To follow are the top things to consider:-

1. Seek advice about vaccinations at least eight weeks prior to your trip to ensure you know what you need, so that you can make an appointment in advance and so the vaccinations have time to work. For general travel information try www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home.aspx. You may have to pay for some vaccinations privately. 

2. Travel Insurance - Make sure you have sufficient travel insurance to cover medical emergencies quickly and efficiently. 

3. Sun safety - In hot climates try and be in the shade particularly between 11am and 3pm and make sure you never burn by covering up, wear a wide brimmed hat and using at least factor 15 sunscreen. Remember to reapply after being in water and frequently when you are in the sun. Even not having proper eye protection can cause a temporary but painful burn to the surface of the eye. If you do get burnt, try having a light shower with cool water and apply after-sun or calamine lotion. Extra care should be taken if you have paler skin, freckles, red or fair hair, have many moles, or if there is a family history of skin cancer. Skin can burn in just 15 minutes in the summer sun. Seek medical help if you feel unwell. 

4. Sun stroke – Sunstroke can result in a body temperature greater than 40c, red, dry or damp skin, confusion, headache, being very thirsty and dizziness. Onset can be sudden or gradual. Move to a cool place, lie down with your feet up, drink plenty of water or rehydration drinks, cool your skin and ask someone to fan you. Cold packs are also good. The best way to avoid sunstroke is to drink plenty of cold drinks, take a cool bath or shower, avoid the sun between 11 am and 3pm, and avoid extreme exercise and alcohol when its hot outside. If you feel really ill, have shortness of breath, or are unresponsive someone needs to seek medical help immediately. 

5. Travel Diarrhoea – Most cases of traveller diarrhoea are not due to a bacterial infection but because of a change in mineral content of the water but in areas where good hygiene is questionable, take precautions to ensure food is uncontaminated and cooked thoroughly and that all water has been purified. Carry sanitising gel or hand wipes. Ensure that clean dishes, cups and utensils are used; use alcohol wipes to clean them if necessary. Where possible choose food that is freshly cooked to a high temperature and served immediately whilst still hot. Be especially cautious with street vendors selling cheese, ice cream, fish and shellfish, salads and fresh herbs (inc in drinks) and fruit. Boiled and bottled water (with intact seal) are usually safe, as are hot tea and coffee, beer and wine. Do not use ice in drinks unless in an established hotel chain. There is an effective antibiotic used for severe cases of travellers’ diarrhoea called Ciprofloxacin. 

6. Deep Vein Thrombosis - If any of the family are at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), seek advice from your GP. Long haul passengers should regularly walk around and stretch their legs on long flights, drink water and preferably avoid alcohol. Wear loose comfortable clothing and anti-DVT special socks. If you have a family history of thrombosis or have had a DVT previously, always consult your doctor before travel. Seek medical advice if planning to travel within a month of abdominal or leg surgery

7. Managing jetlag - There is no magic solution to avoid jetlag but ensure that you adjust your time to local time and try and stay active until bedtime. Depending on your age you can use an antihistamine such as Piriton as it has mild sedative properties. For some it could take a day per hour difference to adjust to time changes.

8. Managing child vaccination needle phobia - Discuss with a health expert prior to the vaccination and choose a time when the GP surgery is not busy or crowded and where you are not rushed. Do not take siblings along at same time if possible. Explain to your child beforehand what will be involved. Appear firm and unwavering when proceeding with immunisation. Ensure you child is wearing appropriate clothing which has easy arm exposure for the appointment.

9. Take medicine with you – Take a travel first aid kit with you. This may include paracetamol, anti-inflammatories, thermometer, plasters, antiseptic cream, dressings, antihistamines if you are prone to allergies and travel sickness pills. 

10. Acute Mountain Sickness - The best way to avoid Acute Mountain Sickness is to ensure your ascent is gradual. Avoid directly flying to an area of high altitude and take 2-3 days to acclimatize before going above 3000m. Take appropriate rests, stay hydrated, eat light but high calorie foods and avoid alcohol. Under some circumstances there is a medication that can reduce the impact of altitude sickness so consult your doctor.

VACCINATIONS

11. Zika virus (ZIKV) is quite a mild virus for most people but is a concern because of the link between ZIKV infection in pregnancy, and the increase in number of birth defects notably babies being born with microcephaly (smaller than normal head). ZIKV is spread by mosquito which predominantly bites during the day, but there are some reports of ZIKV being transmitted sexually. Zika does not occur naturally in the UK but has been reported in Africa and South and Central America as well as other places.

12. Rabies - If you are travelling to a country where rabies is common, you should have the rabies course of vaccinations. You are likely to need three injections before you travel to an area at high risk of rabies. Even with the vaccine, you are not completely protected so if you have been exposed to the virus you will need to visit a doctor within 72 hours to have an extended course

13. Yellow Fever – You must get a yellow fever vaccine if you are travelling to an area that is affected and you must travel with an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) to prove you have been vaccinated. The yellow fever vaccine is given as a single injection and you should be vaccinated at least 10 days before you travel, to allow your body to develop protection. Your proof of vaccination certificate will only become valid after this time. The vaccination provides 95-100% protection.

14. Hepatitis B does have a vaccine, but hepatitis B is spread through bodily fluids. To avoid becoming infected always have protected sex; don’t have any medical or dental treatment in an unsterile environment, share toothbrushes or razors, get a tattoo or piercing without the correct precautions being taken, or share needles with anyone.

15. Antimalarial medication varies in how long you should take them for and how far in advance you should take them. Antimalarial pills are also not 100% effective and there is increasing resistance to them and so you should always try and stop yourself being bitten. Mosquitoes carrying the disease often bite after sunset and so it is a good idea to wear strong repellent and long sleeve clothes after sunset and use DEET-based insect repellents. There are also diseases spread through mosquito’s that bite during the day (such as Dengue fever) so avoidance measures should be used during day.