The most carefully planned holiday, business trip or expedition may be ruined by illness, much of which is preventable. It is logical to put as much effort into protecting your health while abroad as you have into planning your itinerary and obtaining the necessary equipment and travel papers.
Unfortunately, it is not in the best commercial interests of travel companies to emphasise the possible health hazards of destinations that are being sold to potential customers: most holiday brochures limit health warnings to the minimum legal requirements, and some travel agents are woefully ignorant of the dangers of travel to more exotic climates. Our doctor recently treated a travel agent for life-threatening malaria caught on the Kenyan coast. He had not taken malaria prophylaxis, despite the long and widespread recognition of the dangers of malaria in this area.
Happily, travellers’ health problems are usually more mundane. Fatigue from overwork before a business trip or much-needed holiday, the stress of travel itself, exposure to new climates and over-indulgence in rich food, alcohol and tobacco, all contribute to increased vulnerability to illness. Short-lived episodes of diarrhoea affect up to 50 per cent of travellers, and up to one fifth of tourists on some Mediterranean package holidays will have mild respiratory problems such as head colds, ‘flu-like illnesses or, rarely, more severe pneumonias such as Legionnaires’ disease.
Sunburn or heat exhaustion are common, and accidents associated with unfamiliar sports such as skiing are an obvious hazard. But the most common cause of death among expatriates is road traffic accidents, and not exotic infections.
It is sensible to get yourself organised well before you travel and the following pre travel health check-list might be useful. Starting three months before you travel, consult your family doctor and specialist agencies, as necessary, to obtain information about specific health problems at your destinations. You need to consider your own and any travelling companions current health, medical and dental fitness for travel and current medications. You must get adequate health insurance. Plan and obtain necessary immunisations and malaria prophylaxis. Plan and obtain other medications, first aid items,and any necessary documentation. Consider whether you should attend a first-aid training course if you are going on an expedition.
When travelling outside Europe, it is wise to obtain information about compulsory immunisation requirements from the appropriate Embassy, Consulate or High Commission of each country that you plan to visit. However, do not expect their personnel to be able to give you general medical advice, and their information is not always as up to date as it should be. British travellers to exotic locations should also consult their District Public Health Department or one of the centres of specific expertise for the latest information on immunisation requirements and malaria prophylaxis.