Safe and Healthy Travel
Foreign travel has continued to increase and is a popular activity for many people. We travel for all sorts of reasons - for holidays, to visit friends and relatives, for business and for study. The majority of us travel to European destinations but progressively we are travelling to more tropical destinations.
As you embark on a trip you should plan to have a safe and enjoyable experience. It is important to get good travel advice from a health care professional, ideally a minimum of 6- 8 weeks before travel, to ensure you are adequately protected. A travel health consultation will usually involve a risk assessment with a health professional enabling you to receive the best possible current advice on what is required or recommended for the area you are travelling to, including vaccinations. If you have a pre-existing health condition, a travel health consultation may reveal the need for special advice on the mode of travel, choice of destinations and route. In addition, arrangements can be made to ensure you have adequate medications to cover your trip, with some to cover possible delays – familiar medications may be difficult to obtain overseas and may have different names or tablet doses.
Key messages for safe travel
- Obtain travel health insurance which should ideally include repatriation before travel. Many countries do not provide the same access to medical facilities and treatments as in Northern Ireland. For countries that are part of the European Economic Area, visitors can access reciprocal health care on the production of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) – applications are free and can be made on line at www.ehic.org.uk. However, this agreement does not cover the cost of repatriation or routine monitoring of pre-existing health conditions and additional medical insurance is still recommended.
- Be safe – watch out for accidents, injuries and theft. Unfamiliar surroundings and alcohol consumption can often result in accidents. Beware of sea currents and take special care crossing roads. Wear safety belts in cars and helmets on bikes.
- Avoid unprotected sexual contact. Casual sex and failure to use a condom with a new partner, particularly with professional sex workers, puts you at risk of serious infections including HIV.
- Take precautions with food and water – this includes effective purification of drinking water and ensuring that food is uncontaminated or cooked thoroughly. Personal hygiene when eating and drinking is very important. Where possible, wash hands prior to handling food, eating and always after using the toilet.
- Avoid animal and insect bites. Apart from some insects acting as carriers of disease, bites can result in unpleasant and occasionally serious skin reactions. Malaria is potentially a deadly disease and is the world’s second biggest killer but is one that is almost completely preventable. If your accommodation does not provide mosquito protection you should consider taking a mosquito net. Sensible clothing – long sleeves and long trousers while outside and the use of mosquito repellents are also important. If a travel health professional recommends anti malaria tablets, ensure you take them correctly. The UK is a rabies free country, however this is not the case in many different countries and you should not approach stray animals. If bitten, seek medical help immediately.
- Excessive sun exposure should be minimized by the use of sun screen. Sun can be more intense over water, snow and at altitude.
- Ensure you are up to date with the British Schedule of vaccination, including measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Check to see if additional vaccinations and malaria prevention are necessary. Even if you have received the vaccine before boosters may now be necessary.
Good preparation can prevent many potential health problems and make a holiday or business trip much more enjoyable.