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Travel health: be in the know

Posted in: Travel Health 27 Jan, 2012

In all of the excitement that comes with going on holiday – from the initial ideas, to booking flights; from packing, to arriving at the airport – one could almost be forgiven for forgetting the more practical aspects of the adventure.

But, in the event of illness, especially as a consequence of your chosen destination, it is fair to assume that you wouldn’t be delighted by the lack of information you had failed to prepare on the ways in which to keep yourself healthy on your travels abroad.

Before you go, make sure you are fully aware of the common travel health issues (of all levels of severity) you might face before, during, and even after your travels unless suitably informed and protected.

Before your holiday

In effect, your holiday starts even before you’ve left the house; in some instances, it can start weeks before. If you’re one of the fortunate ones jetting off to sunnier climes - notably parts of Africa, South America and South Asia - it is imperative you seek medical advice as soon as possible in regards to any vaccinations or medication you might require.

In some destinations, as those suggested, highly dangerous and prolific diseases, such as malaria, can cause serious illness, many of which are potentially life-threatening. Therefore, it is strongly advised to complete a course of medication prior to your holiday in order to be better protected from the risk of disease. Your doctor will go through which options are suited to your needs; the dosage of medication prescribed depends on the severity of the disease in the specified destination.

The journey

Motion sickness can have a great impact on susceptible holiday makers, for example, in warm, confined spaces such as those in planes and cars, and can be especially felt on boats if the water is particularly rough. Such discomfort can be relatively easily relieved by medication and other aids (ginger is said to be good remedy for easing the irritation of the digestive track).

But, it’s not just how the inside of your body reacts to your journey that can be the problem. Conditions of travel such as sufficient space and restricted seating arrangements can affect the comfort of your travels, making the experience a disagreeable one.

So, what can you do to ease any discomfort you might come across?

  • Stretch your legs. If you’re travelling by plane, and when it is convenient to do so, take a walk up and down the aisle. Sitting scrunched up during a lengthy flight can never be good for you! If you’re travelling by car, pull over at convenient stops, make use of the facilities and get some air.
  • Cushion parts of the body. Taking a pillow with you could be worth it in making your journey a more comfortable experience. Supporting your neck, back and feet could lessen the strain of sitting in the same position for extended periods of time.
  • Keep hydrated. Dehydration can occur as a result of anxiety, overheating or generally feeling unwell, so drink plenty of water to keep yourself going.

You’ve reached your destination!

As a general point, it may well be obvious, but using sunscreen is essential in staying protected from the sun’s harmful Ultraviolet (UV) rays. A high level of exposure to these can result in soreness, redness, and, in severe instances, can lead to skin cancer. Use sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 (before sun exposure) to avoid painful sunburn.

In addition, take care to keep cool to avoid heatstroke: wear loose, cooling clothing; cover your head and protect your eyes; keep to the shade.

You may have been taking precautionary measures in the lead up to your exotic holiday, but it is often the case that - as with malaria medications - these will be needed during and even after the holiday too. As well as prescribed medication, there are additional things you can do in eliminating the risk of illness.

In terms of malaria, you can choose from a range of:

  • mosquito-repellent creams available (mosquito’s - the culprits responsible for the spreading of harmful parasites by biting);
  • treated mosquito nets which will keep the insects at bay.
  • In hot, humid climates, you are more at risk of contracting disease so it is vital to complete the correct course of medication.

In those parts of the world where levels of sanitation may not be at their highest, the threat of travellers’ diarrhoea is especially prevalent, affecting as many as 60% of those on their holiday. With the potential of unpleasant symptoms lasting 3 to 5 days, it’s always best to have relief and treatment to hand – just in case.

To avoid the worst scenario, keep the following in mind:

  • Ensure you are drinking clean water (often bottled). Tap water may be infected.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet.
  • Avoid those foods which may well carry infection, such as foods which are raw or undercooked.

After your holiday

The holiday may be over, but ensure that you are fit and well on your return. If you’ve experienced sunburn, continue to apply after-sun treatment until the symptoms have calmed. If you have not finished your courses of prescribed medication, consult your doctor immediately and check for symptoms which, in the case of malaria, can arise up to a year after the disease has been contracted. Understanding how to look after your health is essential in ensuring that illness doesn’t ruin your holiday.

Know the facts. Be prepared!

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