The summer holidays are coming, which means many of us are dusting off our swimsuits and making lists of holiday essentials – passports, sunglasses, travel adaptor plugs. But all too many people put themselves at risk of a highly unwelcome holiday souvenir – coming back with an illness caught abroad. Read on to avoid being one of them.
If you’re travelling anywhere outside Western Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand, you may well need travel immunisations. Nobody likes needles, but a simple injection will often protect you for years against potentially fatal illnesses.
Your practice nurse will be able to advise you which diseases you need immunising against if you tell her where you’re going. Ideally, you should make an appointment eight weeks before you travel – but she may still be able to help if you’re planning your trip within the next two months. Hepatitis and typhoid vaccines are needed for many countries, and you may need a yellow fever vaccination if you’re going to Africa or South America.
Do ask your nurse about boosters, because different vaccines protect you for different lengths of time. For instance,
Many parts of Asia, South America and Africa pose a high risk of malaria. Tablets need to be taken from one day to two weeks before you leave until one to four weeks after you return, depending on where you’re going. Different tablets are needed for different countries. They aren’t available on the NHS but your GP can issue a private prescription. You can’t afford to stint on this expense! Even if you’re taking tablets, it’s still important to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes to reduce your risk even further.
EHIC – the NHS in your pocket (well, almost!)
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gives you access to emergency medical care anywhere in the European Economic Area, and you’re entitled to the same care as someone covered by that country’s ‘insured’ medical scheme. Don’t forget that this won’t necessarily mean no charge at all, and it certainly won’t cover bringing you back to the UK if you’re taken ill abroad – do get comprehensive travel insurance too. You can apply for an EHIC by phone on 0845 606 2030 or online at www.applyehic.org/ – the card will cover you for five years.
Don’t forget that you’re not the only one going on holiday. Many GP surgeries are short of staff during the holidays, so it may take a little longer than usual to order a repeat prescription. Do make sure you have enough of all your regular medications to last for the whole holiday. Ideally, you should carry regular medications in your hand luggage – getting replacements if your luggage gets lost could be a major headache. However, don’t forget that some countries are strict about taking medications on board a plane with you. This may be a particular issue if you need to carry injections (eg, for diabetes or allergy). If in doubt, check in advance with your airline. They may advise you to get a letter from your GP with a list of your medication.
First aid kits for holiday health
Minimise the stress of holiday accidents with a little forward planning. The contents of your first aid kit will depend very much on where you’re going (you may feel a bit daft turning up in Tenerife with a full intravenous kit). Common essential items include:
- Antidiarrhoeal tablets (available from the chemist) for adults and fluid replacement powders for young children.
- Insect repellants and antihistamine cream.
- Plasters, non-stick sterile dressings, tape, tweezers, safety pins and a bandage or two.
- Paracetamol and indigestion remedies for the morning after the night before!
- A good first aid book.