Travel medicine involves much more than just organising vaccinations. Of course reducing your risk of contracting diseases endemic in your region of travel is a large part of preparing you for travel. However, airline or ship travel, crowding, stress, insect bites, altered personal hygiene facilities, fatigue and altered patterns of hydration can also predispose you to contracting common infections that you would otherwise avoid at home.
Some common diseases are also cyclical in nature and occur in “seasons”. Most people would have heard the media refer to “flu season” as an example. Some diseases may be out of season at home but highly active at your destination.
The climate and environment can also be a consideration in things like skin conditions, exacerbation of asthma, fungal infections and insect types.
There are several measures that can be taken to protect your health when you travel and your GP can provide advice on these:
- Vaccination Planning
- Public Health Measures
- Avoidance of Contact
- Preparation for Travel
- Post Travel Care
Accordingly, a consultation with your GP is an important part of planning your travel. When you book in to discuss your travel, you should bring your full itinerary with you and also request a long appointment. Please inform the receptionist your appointment is for travel planning.
The risk of contracting many diseases can be mitigated by appropriate vaccination. This involves, firstly, making sure that your normal vaccinations against common illnesses are up to date. Then your doctor will research the diseases particular to your destination(s) and recommend which additional vaccines are appropriate.
Vaccination planning and administration can take some time. For example, a full course of Hepatitis A and B vaccinations takes 6 months to administer. So, it is important to have an early chat with your doctor if you have travel planned well in advance. We understand that at times travel will be at short notice and we still encourage you to consult your doctor as there is still some immunity conferred by commencing a course of a vaccine, even if the full course is completed after your trip.
Public Health Measures
There is useful saying for travel to destinations that perhaps, for many reasons, do not have the same standards of public health as Australia – If you don’t cook it, boil it or peel it, don’t put it in your mouth. This is a simplistic way of highlighting that good sanitation, food hygiene and safe drinking water can prevent many diseases. Your doctor can provide advice on public health measures particular to your destination.
Avoidance of Contact
There will inevitably be diseases in all areas of travel that are not vaccine preventable and the main method of staying disease free is through avoidance of the transmission source. Examples include:
- Insect bites – dengue fever, malaria, Ross River Virus
- Waterborne infections – leptospirosis, schistosomiasis, liver flukes
- Animal bites – rabies, plague
- Sexually transmitted infections – syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, hepatitis
Your GP can provide advice on how diseases endemic to your destination are transmitted and methods of avoidance.
Education about your destination is vital to staying safe and healthy. Some destinations have “no go zones” where public safety cannot be guaranteed. Some areas are more prone to crime than others. Find out about safety measures and safety records of organisations if you plan to undertake high-risk activities such as caving, canyoning, rock-climbing, etc. Find out about traffic conditions and local laws relating to accidents if you plan to drive.
You should also find out about local medical facilities, costs of healthcare and any reciprocal health agreements with Australia before your trip and ensure you have travel insurance in case you need medical care and possibly medical evacuation home.
Preparation for Travel
As you prepare to travel there are things that you should consider to keep yourself in good health while you are away:
- Make sure you have adequate stocks of your usual medications. Your doctor can assist in getting you access to more than the normal one month’s supply if you are going away for an extended period.
- Your doctor can also provide you with a letter confirming your legally prescribed medications which is a good idea to have on hand, not just for authorities, but also to give to any medical professionals if you should require medical assistance.
- Consider exposure to insects and take appropriate clothing and protection
- Consider the climate and environment and take appropriate clothing, hats, sunglasses and plan to stay hydrated
- Your doctor may suggest you pack some precautionary medications with instructions on how and when to take it. You should certainly also pack a basic first aid kit and your doctor can also advise on what this should contain based on your destination and planned activities.
When you return from your travel it is important to continue any malaria prevention medication for the prescribed time if it was required for your travel. It is also particularly important to have a medical review for any changes in your state of health for a month after you get back. Always advise any treating doctor of your trip if you need to seek medical treatment soon after returning.
It is also important to make sure you complete any vaccination schedules that were unable to be fully completed prior to your trip. We will send you a reminder when they are due to assist.