Pay attention to your health when traveling overseas on holiday

Planning for your trip can minimise healthcare risks

Thursday, December 12 2013

“Even though there can be health hazards associated with holiday travel, most of us unfortunately do not give it much thought,” says Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Tokai Medicross Family and Dental Clinic.

“Before embarking on your dream holiday it is worth finding out a little more about the health risks you might encounter while visiting other countries. By being well informed you can take the appropriate precautions to ensure that you remain healthy throughout your well earned holiday,” adds Dr Vincent.

Dr Vincent says that the risks vary from traveller to traveller and are also largely dependent on your destination and personal situation. For example, a family travelling to Europe on a skiing holiday will face very different health travel risks than a young couple going on a diving holiday to Zanzibar or an elderly individual taking a trip to Lima, Peru.

“There are a number of important factors to consider when travelling, such as the places you will be visiting. Certain countries may pose specific medical risks such as malaria, yellow fever, hepatitis, rabies, tetanus or meningitis. Most of these diseases can be avoided by vaccination, prophylactic medication and proper precautions regarding your food and water intake,” observes Dr Vincent.

The individual’s health status may be just as important to consider as the place where they will be holidaying, adds Dr Vincent. “If you suffer from chronic medical conditions you should make sure that these will not be aggravated by your planned trip, that you take sufficient supplies of your chronic medication and that you will be able to get the necessary medical treatment if needed.”

Holidaymakers should consider how they will be travelling and the amount of travelling time involved so they can prepare accordingly. Will you be spending a long time in an aircraft, which may place you at risk of developing deep vein thrombosis? Do you have enough safe food and water for the duration of your bus trip? Do you have warm clothing for that winter wonderland you are visiting? Being poorly prepared for your trip may not only negatively impact the enjoyment of your holiday but, even worse, affect your health.

The kind of activities you are planning on your trip should also be considered. Travelling through rural India, or white-water rafting the Zambezi have very different health risk profiles to tanning at the poolside of a five-star hotel in Florida in the United States.

“This said, don’t think that because you may be travelling to a first world country and eating at leading restaurants this is a guarantee that you will be safe from illness causing bacteria and viruses, because they can be picked up anywhere. Viral infections such as hepatitis A and stomach bugs can be contracted in some of the most highly rated eating establishments anywhere in the world and travellers need to protect themselves,” points out Dr Vincent.

Asked what vaccines he thought were essential for regular travellers, Dr Vincent said that hepatitis A and tetanus were a threat anywhere in the world and recommended these inoculations for everyone. Hepatitis A is a highly infectious viral infection causing jaundice and is usually passed on during the handling of food. Two hepatitis vaccinations administered six to eight months apart give lifelong protection. Anyone considering having casual sex, a tattoo or anything to do with needles while travelling should also consider a hepatitis B vaccination.

Endemic yellow fever areas have an International Compulsory Vaccination Requirement for travellers. Note that South Africans coming back into the country from recognised yellow fever areas (the disease is endemic in the tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America) without a valid vaccination certificate, may be held under observation for six days or more, or vaccinated at their own cost. The yellow fever vaccine protects you for 10 years. Vaccinating against typhoid is essential before travelling to Asia. The typhoid vaccine offers protection for three years.

“It is important to be sensible about food while travelling. As a good general rule of thumb, if you can’t peel or cook it then do not eat it. If food is freshly and properly cooked, whether by a hotel or street vendor, it is generally safe to eat. Do take care when it comes to hotel buffets, even the five-star ones. Avoid adding ice to drinks and eating ice cream. Sparkling water can be a good option to drink as you will notice if it’s been tampered with. Use bottled water for brushing your teeth and avoid swallowing water while you shower. This will prevent you from potentially picking up any bugs from local water supplies.”

Do not forget to pack your sunscreen, a vital first line of defence against skin damage and cancers, especially if you are heading for summer climes or a skiing holiday where the sun reflects off the ice. You should use sunscreen with at least a protection level of SPF 30 and a 3+ star rating. Keep in mind that sunscreen should be reapplied regularly especially if you are swimming or sweating heavily. Also wear long trousers, a long sleeved shirt and wide rimmed hat when you go out into the sun. Avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm when the rays of the sun are at their harshest.

“Wherever you go or stay and whatever you plan to do, it is always better to be prepared. For more information regarding health risks at your destination or during your trip, contact your nearest Netcare Travel Clinic. The personnel are trained to identify risk factors in your itinerary and advise you on how to minimise these,” concludes Dr Vincent.

What to pack in your first aid kit

  • Diarrhoea medication – If you are travelling anywhere other than Asia consider taking Ciprobay. The medication of choice for Asia is Azithromyzin.
  • Medication for nausea and stomach cramps.
  • Fever medication.
  • Pain medication – choose one with good anti-inflammatory properties.
  • An antihistamine in tablet form for allergies, preferably a type that only needs to be taken once daily and which will not make you drowsy, plus an antihistamine cream for insect bites or allergic reactions.
  • An antacid – this is most useful for heartburn, which can be brought on by an unfamiliar diet
  • Medicine to treat cold and flu symptoms.
  • Eye drops – many people suffer from dry eyes or irritated eyes due to air travel, climate changes and late nights.
  • Water purification tablets are a good idea if you are visiting an area where drinking water may be contaminated.
  • An antiseptic cream is always handy to prevent infection of wounds.
  • Plasters, some adhesive tape and a bandages .
  • Burnshield is a good first aid measure for burn wounds.
  • A small pair of scissors and tweezers.
  • Chronic medication – always remember to take your medication along, together with copies of your prescription and the generic names of your medication.

Visit the Netcare Travel Clinics website:


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Travel Clinics
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Sarah Beswick
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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