The ten most frequently asked questions about the health risks of travelling:
- How dangerous is travelling for my health?
- Do I need any vaccinations before travelling abroad?
- How important is travel insurance?
- Is it worth taking a traveller’s first aid kit with me?
- Can I take medication on my flight?
- What’s the best way to cope with jet lag?
- How dangerous is the sun?
- How can I treat insect bites?
- What if I become ill after my holiday?
- What’s the best way to keep myself safe when on holiday?
Travelling or going on holiday carries a number of health risks, the most common of which is diarrhoea. It’s estimated that around 40% of travellers will get diarrhoea while on holiday. For more information on this condition you can read more on our Diarrhoea FAQs page.
Another illness that affects travellers is malaria. Although mostly prevalent in tropical countries, outbreaks have been reported in Florida, America and Marseilles in France. You can read more about Malaria in our Malaria FAQs page.
Other illnesses that can be contracted when you are travelling include: Hepatitis A, which you can catch by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by human faeces; Hepatitis B, which is spread through sexual intercourse, blood transfusions, contaminated needles or poorly sterilised medical or dental equipment; typhoid, a lethal disease that can be caught by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water; rabies which can be passed on to humans through an animal bite; and dengue, which is a common disease in South East Asia, the Caribbean and South America and is spread by mosquitoes.
Which vaccinations you will need is largely dependent on where you are going and how long you will be staying for. You should attempt to speak to your doctor at least eight weeks before you intend on going away. This will allow you enough time to schedule jabs and start preventative medications for conditions such as malaria.
The NHS usually offers vaccinations against typhoid, hepatitis A, meningitis C, tetanus, diphtheria and polio for free on the NHS, but this will depend on the practice you are registered at. You may be charged for vaccinations against yellow fever, meningococcal meningitis, Japanese and tick-borne encephalitis, hepatitis B and rabies.
It is important to take out a travel insurance policy. Although many travellers think it’s an unnecessary cost, it’s essential that you protect yourself against medical costs that you may be liable to pay if you have an accident abroad or become ill. For example, costs can soar into the tens of thousands if an air ambulance needs to be used to transport you back to your home country.
It’s also important to make sure that your medical credit card or private healthcare covers all eventualities abroad, as many travellers wrongly assume that they are automatically covered.
A good travel insurance plan should cover illness or injury abroad, 24 hour emergency assistance, personal liability cover, cover for lost or stolen possessions and cancellation of your trip.
You should make sure your travel insurance covers medical and health cover for injury or sudden illness abroad; 24-hour emergency service and assistance; personal liability cover (in case you’re sued for causing injury); lost and stolen possessions cover; and curtailment or cancellation of your trip.
If you intend on taking part in activities such as jet skiing, bungee jumping, diving, go karting or any other dangerous adventure activities, you may need to get more comprehensive cover.
Yes, and it doesn’t matter to which destination you are travelling. Taking a traveller’s first aid kit with the basics such as various-sized bandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin and other pain killers, hand sanitizer and anti-diarrhoea medication is always a good idea.
You may want to take other treatments based on your personal medical history or personal preference, such as antihistamines, laxatives, antacids, water purification tablets or condoms to protect against HIV and other STIs
You can, but, if you don’t need it during your flight, you should place it in your luggage. You can take up to 100g of powder, inhalers or tablets in your hand luggage. If you need to use any special liquids, creams or gels during your flight, you will be able to take no more than 100ml on board.
These rules are important, as the medications you need may be confiscated before the flight.
Jet lag happens when your body clock, also called your circadian rhythm, is disrupted by travelling across time zones. People who have jet lag usually suffer from fatigue, sleepiness, memory lapses, irritability, differences in appetite and apathy.
You can limit the effects of jet lag when you take off, by ensuring you’re well rested before a flight. The following activities can reduce symptoms of jet lag:
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Drinking plenty of water
- Taking a nap if you feel tired
- Walking around the cabin whenever possible
- Choosing lighter meals and eating less and more frequently
When you land, the following activities can help you adjust to your new time zone:
- Exposing yourself to daylight, to reset your body clock
- Avoiding alcoholic of caffeinated drinks a few hours before bed
- Using relaxing techniques to help you unwind and fall asleep
Here at HealthExpress we sell a treatment pack for jet lag, which contains a melatonin-based medication that can be taken to help travellers avoid jet lag.
Exposure to the sun is very dangerous; it can lead to sunburn, which is a known cause of skin cancer, or cause heat exhaustion. Just ten minutes’ exposure to the sun can burn your skin, so you should always use sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15, and one which protects you from UVA and UVB rays.
If your skin does burn, you can take painkillers to ease the pain and use after sun or calamine lotion to the skin. If you start to feel unwell, or your skin swells and blisters, you should seek medical help.
Heat exhaustion can quickly develop into heat stroke if you don’t treat it quickly. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, faintness, heart palpitations, nausea, headaches, tiredness, confusion, low blood pressure, loss of appetite and hallucinations. You can prevent heat exhaustion developing into heat stroke if you sit in the shade, drink plenty of water and cool your skin.
Many people suffer from insect bites when travelling abroad, and most people will escape with a small, itchy bump on the skin. Some people experience a reaction or worse: contract an illness or disease.
Sometimes the bite becomes infected with bacteria, which will need to be treated with antibiotics. In rare cases an insect bite could cause an acute reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include a rapid swelling of the tissues, an itchy red rash, wheezing or difficulty breathing, nausea, abdominal pain and low blood pressure.
Diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis are spread by insects, which is why it’s important you receive all the vaccinations you need before travelling.
Animal bites can spread rabies in certain countries; if you’re bitten by an animal you should wash the wound, apply antiseptic, dress it and start a course of rabies vaccination straight away.
In some cases it can take between six and eight weeks after returning home before you develop symptoms of an illness. Some diseases, such as Malaria, can have a much longer incubation period and take six months to a year before symptoms are presented.
If you become ill after holidaying abroad, you must ensure your doctor knows where you went and if you received any vaccinations.
Personal safety is equally as important as safeguarding your health. You should take every precaution to keep yourself, and your belongings, safe. Carrying a minimum amount of cash on you, hiding your valuables, not drinking too much and making sure someone knows where you’re going in case you get into trouble can all help you stay safe.