You should seek medical advice at least two months prior to travel to discuss potential health risks and what immunisations and medication may be required. This is essential if you intend travelling to Africa, Central and South America, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific islands. It’s important to seek medical advice if you’re pregnant or travelling with young children. You should also visit your dentist.
The Traveller’s Medical and Vaccination Centre is approved by AFTA and provides consistent up-to-date information on travel health and vaccination requirements. They can also provide various useful kits suitable for your journey.
FIRST AID KIT
Following is a list of items recommended if you’re considering putting together your own first aid kit.
• Sterile non-adhesive dressing
• Antiseptic or antiseptic wipes
• Digital thermometer (normal temperature is 37 degrees Celsius)
• Safety pins
• Eye drops
• Rehydration tablets
• Iodine/sterilisation tablets
• Mild pain killers
• Motion sickness pills
• Altitude sickness pills
• Allergy medication
• Cold sore treatment
• Something for throat infections
• Sleeping pills
• Sunburn lotion
• Insect repellent
• Diarrhoea relief
• Own syringes/hypodermic needles (in case you require vaccination)*
• Cotton wool and tissues
• Contraceptives (and prescriptions)
* This one’s a bit iffy as depending on where you’re travelling, they may think you’re a drug user if you happen to have your luggage searched. The reason I suggest it is because some countries may not follow strict hygiene procedures.
It’s recommended to have at least Hep A and Tetanus vaccinations. Hep A requires a two dose course, unless you have it in combination with Hep B and then it’s 3 doses.
Know your blood group in case a transfusion is required. Carry it with you at all times, including any allergies or medical conditions you may be suffering from.
Unless you know it’s safe, sterilise drinking water by boiling or using iodine tablets. Boiling water is preferable and it should be boiled vigorously for a few minutes.
Use straws when drinking from cans and bottles and don’t put ice cubes in drinks.
Freshly cooked food is safer. Be careful of cold or reheated food, raw vegetables and salads. Also beware of dairy products unless pasteurised.
Practise safe sex.
It’s not wise to have your skin pierced, for example, ear piercing, tattooing, acupuncture etc, unless you can be sure the equipment is sterile. A needle wiped with an alcohol swab is not necessarily sterile.
To avoid mosquito bites, wear long sleeved clothing and long pants at dusk and dawn and try to stay away from water in the evenings. Don’t wear perfume.
Use a little extra salt in food to counter increased losses from sweating. Salt tablets are no longer recommended.
A fever doesn’t necessarily mean you have a flu. If you have a fever, it would be wise to see a doctor, particularly if travelling in a malaria region.
Avoid handling animals and pets as rabies is common in many parts of the world. Animals can also carry many other types of infections. If you’re bitten, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek urgent medical attention.
If you intend being away for a while, take sufficient supply of any medication you require with you, including the contraceptive pill if you take it. There are many countries where replacement medication may not be available. Leave the medication in its original packaging.
It’s advisable to carry a copy of the prescription and/or explanatory letter from your doctor as a precaution stating what medication is for, how much you need to take and that it’s for personal use only. You may be required to produce these in some countries due to drug surveillance. Also check with relevant embassies/consulates whether the medication you take is legal in the countries you intend to visit because even if your medication is prescribed by a doctor, they could be considered to be a controlled substance or illegal.
If you wear glasses, it’s advisable to carry a spare pair, together with your prescription.
Altitude sickness (also known as Hypoxia) occurs when you ascend too highly, too quickly, usually over 2,400 metres (8,000 feet). Higher altitudes have lower levels of oxygen and decreased air pressure.
Some of the symptoms are dizziness, headache, nausea, muscle aches, rapid heartbeat loss of appetite and sleeping problems.
Ways to minimise these affects are:
Reduce your activity level.
Hydrate with water.
Drink plenty of fluids and eat high energy carbohydrate meals.
If flying into a high altitude city such as Lima, lie down for three or four hours when you reach your destination.
Take aspirin for headaches.
Take Diamox if you experience mild symptoms such as headache, nausea or insomnia but consult with your doctor first on whether it will be safe for you to take.
If any of the above fails, you will need to descend, but at only about 300 metres a day. If you don’t pulmonary or cerebral edema can occur which can be fatal in two days. It’s recommended that you discuss altitude sickness with your doctor if you intend travelling to destinations with high altitudes.
I travelled to Tibet in 2014 with a group of travel agents. Most of us only suffered headaches and one had vomiting. Two people in the group took Diamox – one still got symptoms whilst the other didn’t. I bought a couple of oxygen bottles (about $4 each) in a shop across from our hotel in Lhasa in preparation for our trip to the Roof of the World, however, didn’t find the need to use them.
We travelled to the “Top of the World” with an elevation of 5,000m for a quick photo stop. I felt the effects of altitude sickness more acutely after we descended and stayed overnight at Gyangtse (4,000 metres above sea level). During the night, I was feeling cold and got out of bed to retrieve a blanket from the cupboard. I felt so weak and could hardly move. It took a lot of effort to spread the blanket on the bed. Whilst in Tibet, I was surprised to see a lot of elderly western tourists in their 70’s and 80’s and they appeared to be okay.
NOTE: information provided can change at any time. Remember to seek medical advice before travelling.
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