The healthy travel alphabet

Today’s travellers venture into all sorts of exotic environments that can challenge good health. Use this A–Z guide by Dr Deborah Mills to help you keep fighting fit while you see the world.

Altitude sickness is impossible to get in Australia – our mountains are not high enough – but it can strike people
travelling above 3000 metres, e.g. in the heady heights of Peru, Tanzania, Nepal and some ski resorts. Plan to ascend
gradually and carry ginkgo biloba and Diamox in your medical kit.

Aspirin. Make sure you always carry this, particularly if you’re aged 50-plus, when heart attacks become more common.
Taking aspirin within fours hours of an attack improves survival rates.

Bird flu seems to have retreated but has not gone. You’re safe provided you don’t visit live animal markets and don’t eat raw chicken. (Most travellers don’t find these restrictions too difficult to observe!) Keep an eye on your blood pressure and take precautions like wearing compression stockings when you fly.

Chickenpox can be serious in adults – and would ruin your trip. If you’ve not had it, there’s now a vaccine to stop the spots.

Dengue fever is like the worst attackof the flu and is caught in the tropics from mosquitoes. There is no vaccine, so
you need to keep those mozzies at bay.

Diarrhoea (aka ‘Bali belly’) can lead to dehydration, which can play havoc with medications you may be taking. If it strikes, keep fluid levels up.

Eating and drinking safely are fundamental to staying healthy and enjoying your trip. The rule is: Boil it, cook it, peel it – or forget it! Food should be recently cooked and too hot to touch when it comes to your table (all the germs will be dead).
You also need bottled drinks, fruit you have peeled yourself, clean hands and clean utensils. Avoid ice in drinks, and raw, undercooked or reheated food – especially egg-based cold sauces.

First-aid training is a great idea if you’re heading off the beaten track. The life you save may be your own or
someone of whom you’re very fond.

Get fit before you go – you will enjoy your trip more. It’s good for your general health to be fit, too.

Hair loss during or shortly after prolonged or stressful travel is quite
common, but don’t worry, your hair will
grow back. Have a check-up when you
get home, though, just in case.

Avoid insects. In the dangerous animal stakes, tigers and lions are nothing compared to the humble mosquito.
Insect bites can be poisonous, hurt, set off allergic reactions, get infected or carry some really nasty diseases.

Jetlag is worst when flying east. Take it easy for a few days. Melatonin and some sleeping pills can help if you take them
at bedtime in the new place.

A medical kit is a great use of precious luggage space. Include treatments for diarrhoea, chest infections, pain and wounds, although what you need also depends on your past health, your medical status, where you are going, what you are doing, etc.

Letter for medications. You need an authorisation letter for any tablets or pills you wish to carry in your medical kit.

Carry a comprehensive copy of your medical history detailing such things as allergies, major health events and current medications. It makes life a lot easier if you don’t have to explain the specifics in a foreign country.

Meningococcal meningitis vaccination is recommended for some parts of the world. There are different strains of the meningococcal germ; for travel, you generally need Meningitis ACWY Vaccine.

Noroxin is a prescription medication used to treat travellers diarrhoea fast and a vital component of your medical kit.

Obtaining reliable medicines overseas may be difficult. Forty per cent of the drugs in some developing countries
are wrongly labelled, out of date, etc.

Packing. Take more money and less stuff. Taking too much luggage is a definite health hazard, leading to strained backs and nerves.

Quinine is the old malaria treatment. Tonic water will not do the trick – you’d need to drink about 60 litres of tonic water every day to prevent malaria.

Responsible travel. There are about 500 million trips taken annually around this planet. We have a responsibility to
ensure we don’t destroy the cultures and environments we visit.

Even at home your personal security cannot be taken for granted. Leave expensive trappings behind, don’t dress like a tourist, try to keep your hands free, do your research so you know the parts of town to avoid, and keep someone regularly informed of your
itinerary. Only drink beverages you have opened and poured yourself. Snakes. The worst ones are here in Australia!

Problems with teeth can often be avoided if you have a dental check up in the six months prior to departure.

Urinary problems like infections or kidney stones are more common when travellers don’t drink enough water as the
water is ‘not safe’. Hit the bottled variety!

Start your vaccinations eight weeks before departure for maximum protection. A flu vaccination is essential for people over 55. There is also a new vaccine available for shingles that is highly recommended for travellers over 60.

Vomiting in travellers is likely to befood poisoning. Sometimes anti-nausea pills can make things worse.

Women need special extras in their medical kit e.g. treatment for thrush, cystitis, extra contraceptive pills to stop
their periods.

X is the unknown quantity – and if you seem to catch a mystery disease during your travels, get a check-up immediately. Most tropical diseases are easily treatable if you act early.

Yellow fever vaccination may be compulsory before visiting certain countries, or to get back into Australia.

Time for a snooze – you’ve done your research, had the necessary shots early, are carrying a medical kit, and have strong insect repellent and sunscreen.

You’re all prepared! Travel is good for you. Job burnout is much more dangerous!

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