Your flight tickets have been arranged, the dog is booked in the kennels, everything is organised for this year’s holiday. But have you considered your families health when on holiday?
Travel health is more important than your holiday wardrobe but the average person probably spends more time worrying about what to take than thinking about keeping healthy when away.
Is there malaria in the country you are visiting? Can I catch any “exotic” diseases? Can I drink the tap water? Travel Health is for anyone travelling overseas - from a 2-week family holiday to Bali, a business trip to China or even a trip to Europe.
The number of travellers throughout the world has dramatically increased over the last few decades.
The World Tourism Organization estimates that in 2016 there were more than 1.245 billion international tourist arrivals with travel to developing countries being the fastest growing area in the travel industry. Therefore, travellers need to be informed and well prepared in order to minimize health risks.
“In travel medicine, as in much of clinical work, prevention is better than cure” as discussed by G. Kassianos, an acclaimed travel health writer and researcher. There are numerous travel health issues, some of which will now be discussed.
By taking some general advice from a Travel Health Practitioner your travel health risks can be greatly reduced. Remember prevention is better than cure.
“It is now generally accepted that no other measure taken by man, apart from the provision of clean water, has ever saved more lives than immunization against infectious diseases.
Vaccines are among the safest and most successful public health tools available for preventing infectious diseases and their complications.” G Kassianos A Travel Health Practitioner will determine the vaccinations required for the specific area you are visiting.
It is helpful if you can; bring any previous vaccination documentation/history with you, be aware of the exact area of the country you are visiting, know the dates you are going and the length of stay, type of accommodation and the medical facilities available at the destination.
This will enable the Travel Health Practitioner to complete a risk assessment and determine what vaccinations are recommended. As mentioned previously vaccinations are advised to all travel destinations including Europe.
Flu and tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough vaccinations are always advised for travel to developed areas of the world, including Europe and Australia.
Measles vaccination/immunity is also recommended (there are pockets of measles cases in Europe presently). If the travel is more extensive, for example backpacking for a year in rural Asia, additional vaccinations may be advised.
Although vaccinations are extremely important in preventing disease, additional travel advice is also necessary.
It must not be assumed that travel health is just vaccinations, but that it encompasses a wide range of information - a selection of topics will now be discussed.
Further advice may be discussed by your Travel Health Practitioner depending on your travel itinerary.
Malaria is one of the more common and serious of the tropical diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is endemic in over 91 countries which are visited by more than 125 million international travellers each year. The majority of deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa, but South and Central America, Asia and the Middle East are also affected.
Malaria cases result from the bite of the female anopheline mosquito. They bite between dusk and dawn. Mosquitoes like a humid environment and breed in fresh water so their numbers increase after heavy rains. Consult with your Travel Health Practitioner prior to travel to see if the area you are visiting is affected by malaria and what medication and precautions are required.
Travellers’ diarrohea is one of the most common health risks associated with travel. I am sure the majority of people who have travelled extensively have had a bout of diarrohea. Thankfully, the majority of cases are mild but still can disrupt your holiday, especially if you are away for a short time. Precautions and treatment can be recommended. Remember children and the elderly can get dehydrated quickly from diarrohea. A travellers’ diarrohea medical kit is always a good idea to take with you.
Travellers are much more likely to be injured in an accident whilst on holiday than catch a disease. People on holiday appear to lose their common sense. There is no reason not to enjoy yourselves but you still need to be careful.
Road accidents cause more deaths among travellers than any other cause. Be sensible when crossing roads, ensure hired vehicles are well maintained, wear seatbelts, keep to speed limits and do not drink and drive.
Drownings can be prevented by being aware of the tides, ensuring a life guard is present, avoiding swimming alone, not swimming after drinking alcohol and making sure that children are accompanied by an adult at all times.
There are numerous considerations to consider before choosing a destination and itinerary when pregnant. For example, in early pregnancy it is important to establish antenatal care such as routine blood tests and ultrasound scans.
Therefore travel, if possible, should be postponed until the necessary tests are completed. There needs to be a discussion on the risk of mosquito borne diseases such as Zika Virus. Also, in the early weeks of travel, nausea and vomiting tend to be aggravated by travel.
Miscarriage is more common in the early weeks of pregnancy. In the later stages of pregnancy, premature labour is a risk. Consult with your Travel Health Practitioner and Obstetrician before any travel whilr pregnant or planning pregnancy.
Travelling with Children
Some basic advice to ensure each family member has a great time; Plan your destination/itinerary – Is there malaria? Are vaccinations up to date? Does the hotel have activities for the children? How long is the journey? Would a stop over be less tiring? Do you have adequate toys/milk/nappies/snacks for the journey?
A good ideal is to pack a medical kit as children are more liable to get ill when travelling than adults.
Travelling with a Chronic Medical Condition
What is your state of health? How fit are you? Should you really be going white water rafting with unstable angina? If you suffer from a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular problems, mental illness or even a chronic dental or gynecological condition you need to take ensure it is safe for you to travel.
Consult with your GP or Travel Health Practitioner to discuss your destination/itinerary and have a check up prior to travel, either with your GP or specialist to ensure you are fit to travel.
There is no reason why you cannot travel but being sensible can ensure your health risks are reduced.
Insurance is vital before going on a holiday. Insurance is not only required to cover lost luggage but also your family’s health. Ensure adequate insurance cover is obtained to cover for example hospitalization and repatriation. Remember private medical can be expensive if not covered. Use the web and check out the medical facilities in the country you are visiting before travel.
Travel should be an exciting experience but it is strongly advisable to take a little time prior to travel to discuss the possible travel health risks. Prevention is the key.
I hope you have a relaxing and healthy holiday or business trip.
Catherine Keil is a Nurse Practitioner Travel Health and Immunisations and based in South Australia.