Those going on long haul travels should pay close attention to their health, especially if travelling to high-risk destinations such as Africa. You will need to be thinking about your health requirement weeks before you travel.
The first place to start is by researching your destination. What injections are required by law for entry into the country (e.g. yellow fever) and what injections are highly recommended? Your GP will be able to help. Common vaccinations are: cholera, diptheria, polio, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. If you have had vaccinations for some of these diseases before you may still be protected or may be able to get a booster that will top you up for years to come.
Depending on your destination you may also need antimalarials. Malaria tablets should be taken one to two weeks before departure to build up some protection and to check there’s no adverse side effects. Depending on which antimalarials you are prescribed, side effects can range from extra sun sensitivity to hallucinations. You will still need to take other preventative measures against mosquito bites as antimalarials cannot prevent infection with malaria – they inhibit the parasite’s development.
If you are going to be coming into frequent close contact with animals on your travels you may also need protection against rabies but this isn’t standard practice for most travellers.
Obviously you will need to make sure you have plenty of personal medication and a first aid kit that suits the type of trip you are going on. Take more medication than you think you will need in case you are delayed in your destination country.
You must make sure that you have adequate health insurance – trying to make savings here is not advisable. It would be awful to be stranded in a foreign country with medical bills racking up because you didn’t bother with insurance or thought you could get away with not taking it out. Repatriation can cost vast sums of money and you need to be covered. For travel within Europe, a European Health Insurance Card (available from the Post Office amongst other places) entitles you to free or reduced cost medical treatment.
Air travel may also cause you problems such as dehydration (due to re-circulated air-conditioned cabin climate) and DVT due to immobility. Deep vein thrombosis isn’t very common but can be lethal. Make sure you drink plenty of water on your flight, don’t drink too much alcohol or coffee, keep your skin moisturised and keep your body as active as possible with walking up and down the cabin or moving your feet about. It is also a good idea to purchase special flight socks that help prevent the blood in your legs pooling, giving you some protection against DVT.
On arrival at your destination, follow good hygiene practices and don’t take silly risks. ‘Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it’ is a motto that will see you through in areas of poor sanitation. Make sure your hot food is properly hot and that you stay away from ice cubes if you are not sure if the water they have been made from is safe. Only wash food in boiled or sterilised water and don’t use water from the tap to drink or brush your teeth. Ensure bottled water served to you is opened in your presence.
If you do suffer from an upset stomach it may not be that you have caught anything nasty but that your body is not used to the new food and different water. If you feel really ill then seek medical advice as soon as possible.