Dr Shreya Singhal is currently working as a Junior Doctor and Academic Foundation Trainee based in West London as well as a trainee. She has worked in infectious disease and general practice and shared her top tips for people looking to travel this summer.
Many people will go abroad this year. I have written this blog as a handy guide on how to travel safely and minimize the risks to your health. These tips can be applied by those embarking on the adventure of a lifetime or those just looking for a week of summer sun.
The risks to your health vary depending on the type of trip, so whether you’re out for a week of tanning or a longer trip, it pays to be prepared. It’s important to check your destination before traveling and be prepared by keeping up to date with the latest outbreaks and events.
Before you travel
It’s important to make sure you’re up to date with the UK vaccination schedule before you travel, both for your own protection and the health of those around you.
Different diseases are circulating in many countries and some of them can be potentially dangerous. It’s possible to contract a disease that we don’t normally see in the UK, and it’s important to remember that some can have serious consequences for vulnerable people.
Viruses such as measles are more common in parts of Africa, Asia and continental Europe, so please check you are up to date with your childhood vaccination schedule.
You may need additional vaccinations and preventive medications for the countries you are visiting. For example, if you are visiting rural Asia and the Far East, Japanese encephalitis may be a risk and vaccination may be recommended.
There are also places where rabies vaccination may be necessary and. for malaria risk zones, it may be necessary to take malaria prevention tablets; It is important to note that some countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination even if there is no risk of infection.
Always check your country of travel for recommended vaccinations, review the NHS Advice on Travel Vaccinations and keep a close eye out for outbreaks in your country of travel.
You can contact your local travel health clinic or GP surgery for advice on vaccinations and preventative medicines. For most vaccines, it is recommended that you arrange your vaccination 4-6 weeks before you arrive at your destination.
Other factors to consider
- Your own health must be stable before you travel. Bring your own medication that is sufficient for the length of your trip (for example, if you have asthma, make sure you carry your inhalers and rescue kits).
- Carry regular medications or a small first aid kit that you may need as you do not know what medications/supplies the country you are traveling to will have.
- It is also important to check the regulations on the use and import of medicines in your target country, which may be a common medicine in the UK in another country.
During your trip
General health measures
While abroad, especially in more remote/rural areas, be mindful of hand hygiene, water supply, food safety, sun exposure and sexual health.
Be sure to pack condoms, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer before you leave, and if possible, drink bottled water and wash your hands with soap and warm water before using the restroom and before eating. For general tips, this helpful blog covers the best tips for each of them.
It is more common in some countries, but traveler’s diarrhea caused by the consumption of unsafe food/water is something to be aware of. You can lose quite a bit of fluid from this, so if you experience these symptoms while traveling, it’s a good idea to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of bottled fluids, possibly supplemented with rehydration salts (if you feel particularly unwell, seek medical attention while abroad , as you may require medical attention for dehydration).
Specific diseases worth paying attention to
Mosquito bites are particularly dangerous and can cause malaria, dengue, chikungunya and many other diseases. Advice for avoiding mosquito bites includes wearing long-sleeved clothing to cover exposed skin, using repellants (at least 50% DEET) and mosquito nets.
Suspected malaria is a medical emergency and should be diagnosed and treated quickly. If you are visiting a malaria-risk country, which includes countries in Africa, Asia, and large areas of Central and South America, and you have a fever, flu-like symptoms, or any other unusual symptoms during or after your trip, you should get emergency medical care. Don’t wait until you’re back in the UK if you’re unwell.
Rabies is transmitted by a bite or scratch from an infected animal, usually a dog, and can be fatal if unrecognized or if post-exposure treatment is not available.
Avoid animal bites and check if you will be vaccinated before vaccination. All travelers who may have been exposed to the rabies virus, whether through bites, scratches or other means, should seek immediate medical attention. Full rabies advice can be found here.
Practicing safer sex abroad will reduce the risk of STIs and HIV, as well as infections spread through close personal contact, such as mpox.
You can reduce your risk by using condoms and having an open conversation about HIV, STIs and Mpox before any sexual contact, and by avoiding sharing things like towels, clothes or bedding with someone who has mpox or mpox symptoms.
Mpox is a virus that can be transmitted from an infected animal to a person, or through close personal contact with a person with Mpox or materials where the person has spread the virus.
Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, and a rash that often starts on the face and then spreads to other parts of the body, which may include the mouth, genitals, and anus (considered contagious until all the scabs fall off. and the skin is intact).
In 2022, an international outbreak of mpox was reported in more than 100 countries where mpox was spread through sexual contact, particularly among men who are gay, bisexual, or have sex with men, and some countries are still reporting new infections. about
Those at risk, including those who have been in contact with an mpox patient, can receive the mpox vaccine. More information can be found here.
If you have had sex without a condom while abroad, check yourself for STIs before having sex with anyone. depending on where you live, you can get a self-sampling kit or just go to your local sexual health clinic.
Returning to the UK
When you return to the UK, if you feel unwell, see a doctor and make sure you tell your healthcare provider that you have traveled recently.