Health advice for travellers

Claire Stringer, Travel Health Nurse Advisor
Offers advice to the medical industry on issues around travel health

How would the travel advice you give to a volunteer differ to from that you give to an ordinary traveller?

The circumstances can be very different and varied, we would give specialist advice to those who are volunteering. If they are based in rural areas and having close contact with the population then it is likely there will be more vaccinations recommended and it is very important to be careful with food and water.

How can you avoid getting ill while away?

Important to plan properly; seek advice from your practice nurse. Important to research the destination before you go, find out if there are medical facilities there and what your accommodation will be like. Practice good food and water hygiene; avoid ice in drinks and drinking bottled or boiled water. Avoid insect bites by having a mosquito net and using insect repellents when out and about.

Malaria?

There are different types of malaria tablets and it will be very different from person to person as to what types are recommended. It’s important to start the course of tablets before departure, continue them while there and most malaria tablets require them to be taken four weeks after you return home. This is a very important time to remember to keep taking them because malaria can take a long time to become active in the body. The symptoms of malaria are: flu like symptoms, high temperatures, shivers, shakes, aching and diarrhoea. If you develop these then you should seek medical advice immediately.

What should I pack in a first aid kit?

Basic requirements are: plasters, dressings, antiseptic, painkillers, triangular bandage for making slings, elasticated bandages for sprained ankles. You can get sterile kits which if going to remote places will include injection kits and sterilise equipment.

What should I do if I become ill while travelling?

If you’ve done your planning then you should be confident of what to do. Make sure when you arrive at your destination that you ask about a good doctor and pharmacy, most hotels will usually have a list of nearby medical facilities. If you become ill then seek medical advice, and phone your health insurance company as they should be able to advise you. You can also contact the embassy for your country as they will be able to offer advice.

Should I get travel insurance?

Definitely. Some countries are very expense to become unwell in, in particular countries like the United States which operate an entirely private healthcare system. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have health insurance, something like a broken leg could cost you up to £10,000 to have treated abroad.

How can I cope with diarrhoea?

It’s the most common problem for travellers to experience, can often be caused by the change in diet. For example in Asian countries there are not as many solids eaten, it’s mainly a rice diet and this can lead to diarrhoea. To cure it then make sure you increase your fluid intake, stick to a bland diet and avoid dairy products such as milk and cheese. Use rehydration sachets if possible, these stop you becoming dehydrated. If you have to keep travelling, for example you’re on a long bus or train journey then use some Imodium as this will keep you comfortable for around 24-48 hours.

Can I trust the medical advice and medication in developing countries?

Most of the time you can but there can be a lot of counterfeit medicines on the market. A lot of countries don’t have the level of regulation that we do in the UK. Make sure that you use a doctor recommended to you by consulate staff if possible.

Top 5 travel health trips:

1.    Good preparation, seek advice before travelling and make sure you have any recommended vaccinations
2.    Be aware of your personal safety, a lot of health problems are people twisting ankles etc on bumpy pavements.
3.    Take care with food and drink
4.    Avoid insect bites
5.    Get medical insurance before you travel

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