Vacations, business trips or more carefully planned expeditions can be ruined by illnesses, many of which are preventable. It is logical to strive to protect one’s health abroad while planning the itinerary and obtaining the necessary equipment and travel documents.
Unfortunately, it is not in the best commercial interests of travel companies to emphasize the possible health risks of the destinations that are sold to potential customers: most holiday brochures limit health warnings to the minimum legal requirements and some travel agents are sadly unaware of the dangers of traveling to more exotic climates. Our doctor recently treated a travel agent for life-threatening malaria caught on the Kenya coast. He had not taken malaria prophylaxis, despite the long and widespread recognition of the dangers of malaria in this area.
Fortunately, travelers’ health problems are generally more mundane. The fatigue caused by overwork before a business trip or the most necessary holidays, the stress of the trip itself, exposure to new climates and excessive indulgence in rich foods, alcohol and tobacco, contribute to increasing the vulnerability to diseases . Short-lived episodes of diarrhea affect up to 50% of travelers and up to a fifth of tourists in some Mediterranean travel packages will have mild breathing problems such as colds in the head, flu-like illnesses or, rarely, more severe pneumonia such as disease of the legionaries.
Sunburn or heat exhaustion are common and accidents associated with unknown sports such as skiing are an obvious risk. But the most common cause of death among expats is road accidents and not exotic infections.
It is reasonable to plan well before the trip and the following pre-trip health checklist may be helpful. Starting three months before the trip, consult your family doctor and specialized agencies, if necessary, to obtain information on specific health problems in your destinations. You need to take into account your health and any travel companions for health, medical and dental fitness for travel and current medications. You need to get adequate health insurance. Plan and obtain the necessary immunizations and malaria prophylaxis. Plan and get other medications, first aid items and all the necessary documentation. Consider whether you should attend an emergency room course if you are going on an expedition.
When traveling outside Europe, it is advisable to obtain information on mandatory immunization requirements from the appropriate embassy, consulate or high commission of each country you intend to visit. However, don’t expect their staff to be able to give you general medical advice, and their information isn’t always up to date as it should be. British travelers to exotic locations should also consult their district public health department or one of the specific centers of expertise for the latest information on immunization requirements and malaria prophylaxis.