Travelling can be exciting, relaxing, rewarding – or all of the above. But there are some risks involved, especially when visiting certain countries. Follow these health tips to make the most out of your holiday and to have a safe trip. Bon voyage.
1. See your doctor 6 to 8 weeks before you go overseas. Depending on the countries you’re visiting, you may be exposed to infectious diseases that are not common in Australia. It’s important to discuss vaccinations for diseases such as yellow fever, measles and Japanese encephalitis with a doctor well ahead of your departure date, to give any vaccines time to work.
2. Research the water quality at your destination. Eating or drinking contaminated food and water can put you at risk of infections such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis A, cholera and typhoid. Where local tap water is not safe to drink (find out about your destination at Smarttraveller.gov.au) use bottled water only, for both drinking and brush your teeth.
3. Pack tampons, condoms and other personal essentials. In some countries and regions, supplies of pads and tampons, nappies and contraceptives, including condoms, may be unreliable or unavailable, so plan to take these with you. Of course, always use condoms when having sex overseas as the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, can be much higher than in Australia.
4. Check if your medication is legal at your destination. Your medication or medical devices may not be allowed in the country you’re travelling to – including complementary medicines – so check with its consulate or embassy. You may need to apply for customs clearance for some medications. If you take prescription medication, ask your doctor for a letter confirming what it is and why you take it. If the medication is illegal at your destination, ask your doctor if there are any alternatives.
5. Protect yourself from mozzies. In many parts of the world, such as South America, Africa and Asia, mosquitoes can spread infectious diseases, including yellow fever and malaria. Serious outbreaks of dengue fever have occurred in Queensland, too.
There are medications you can take to protect against mosquito-borne diseases (ask your doctor), but the most reliable way to ensure you don’t get bitten is to wear a repellent containing DEET or picaridin. Make sure you bring some with you. You can also wear long-sleeved, light-coloured clothes when outdoors and sleep under a mosquito net.
6. Be aware of rabies. Take care when strolling through places like Bali’s monkey forest – those primates can bite. Rabies is a virus that can be transferred to humans by warm-blooded wild animals outside Australia (such as monkeys, dogs, bats and rodents) through bites and scratches. Rabies infections are very rare but almost always fatal. Avoid handling or feeding wild or feral animals, including dogs, while overseas and seek medical attention if you’re bitten or scratched.
7. Get travel insurance. Medicare usually can’t help you if you’re hurt or unwell overseas, so it’s important to take out a travel health insurance policy. Check the policy carefully to make sure it covers all medical expenses for injury or illness, check if your partner or family are covered too, and disclose any pre-existing medical conditions first – or future claims could be rejected.
8. Rethink medical tourism. Some people consider having cosmetic surgery or dental or medical procedures overseas because it may be cheaper than in Australia. But it can be difficult to get reliable information about the qualifications and expertise of a doctor in another country. The quality of care and hospitals overseas may be quite different from what you might expect in Australia.
9. Watch your drinks. If you’re in a bar or club, protect yourself and your friends from drink spiking. Alcoholic drinks can be mixed with, or replaced with, harmful substances such as methanol, which can cause serious illness, blindness, brain injury or death. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, never leave your drink unattended, and if you’re not absolutely sure your drink is still safe, leave it alone.
10. Find out if you qualify for subsidised health care overseas. Australia has agreements with 11 countries, including Italy and the UK, wherein Australian visitors can get publicly-funded medical help. They're called a Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCAs). Check whether the country you’re travelling to offers Australians emergency care, or care for an illness or injury that can't wait till you get home, at humanservices.gov.au. But take your Medicare card with you, and you should still take out travel insurance.