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Pre-Departure Planning
Make sure you're healthy before you start travelling. If you're embarking on a long trip, make sure your teeth are OK. If you wear glasses or contact lenses take a spare pair and your prescription.
If you require a particular medication take an adequate supply, as it may not be available locally. Take the prescription or, better still, part of the packaging showing the generic rather than the brand name (which may not be locally available), as it will make getting replacements easier. It's wise to have a legible prescription or a letter from your doctor with you to prove that you legally use the medication to avoid any problems.
Health Insurance
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a wise idea. There is a wide variety of policies available and your travel agent will be able to make recommendations. The international student-travel policies handled by STA Travel and other student travel organisations are usually good value. Some policies offer lower and higher medical-expense options but the higher ones are chiefly for countries like the USA which have extremely high medical costs. Check the small print.
Some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', including scuba diving, motorcycling and even trekking. If such activities are on your agenda then you don't want that sort of policy. A locally acquired motorcycle licence may not be valid under your policy.
You may prefer a policy which pays doctors or hospitals direct rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later make sure you keep all documentation. Some policies ask you to call back (reverse charges) to a centre in your home country where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
Check if the policy covers ambulances or an emergency flight home.
Medical Kit
It is sensible to carry a small, straightforward medical kit. A kit should include:
  • Aspirin or paracetamol (acetaminophen in the US) - for pain or fever.
  • Antihistamine (such as Benadryl) - useful as a decongestant for colds and allergies, to ease the itch from insect bites or stings and to help prevent motion sickness. There are several antihistamines on the market, all with different pros and cons (eg a tendency to cause drowsiness), so it's worth discussing your requirements with a pharmacist or doctor. Antihistamines may cause sedation and interact with alcohol so care should be taken when using them.
  • Antibiotics - useful if you're travelling well off the beaten track, but they must be prescribed and you should carry the prescription with you.
  • Loperamide (eg Imodium) or Lomotil for diarrhoea; prochlorperazine (eg Stemetil) or metaclopramide (eg Maxalon) for nausea and vomiting.
  • Rehydration mixture - for treatment of severe diarrhoea; this is particularly important if travelling with children.
  • Antiseptic such as povidone-iodine (eg Betadine) for cuts and grazes.
  • Multivitamins - especially for long trips when dietary vitamin intake may be inadequate.
  • Calamine lotion or aluminium sulphate spray (eg Stingose spray) to ease irritation from bites and stings.
  • Bandages and Band-aids - for minor injuries.
  • Scissors, tweezers and a thermometer (note that mercury thermometers are prohibited by airlines).
  • Insect repellent, sunscreen, chap stick and water purification tablets.
  • Cold and flu tablets and throat lozenges. Pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (Sudafed) may be useful if flying with a cold to avoid ear damage.
  • A couple of syringes and needles, in case you need injections in a country with medical hygiene problems. Ask your doctor for a note explaining why they have been prescribed.
For some countries no immunisations are necessary, but the further off the beaten track you go the more necessary it is to take precautions. Be aware that there is often a greater risk of disease with children and in pregnancy.
Leave plenty of time to get your vaccinations before you set off: some of them require an initial shot followed by a booster, and some vaccinations should not be given together. It is recommended you seek medical advice at least six weeks prior to travel.
Record all vaccinations on a International Health Certificate, which is available from your physician or government health department.
Discuss your requirements with your doctor, vaccinations which may be required include:
  • Cholera - Despite its poor protection, in some situations it may be wise to have the cholera vaccine eg for the trans-Africa traveller. Very occasionally travellers are asked by immigration officials to present a certificate, even though all countries and the WHO have dropped a cholera immunisation as a health requirement. You might be able to get a certificate without having the injection from a doctor or health centre sympathetic to the vagaries of travel in Africa.
  • Hepatitis A - The most common travel-acquired illness after diarrhoea which can put you out of action for weeks. Havrix is a vaccination which provides long term immunity (possibly more than 10 years) after an initial injection and a booster at six to 12 months. Gamma globulin is not a vaccination but is ready-made antibody collected from blood donations. It should be given close to departure because, depending on the dose, it only protects for two to six months.
  • Hepatitis B - This disease is spread by blood or by sexual activity. Travellers who should consider a hepatitis B vaccination include those visiting countries where there are known to be many carriers, where blood transfusions may not be adequately screened or where sexual contact is a possibility. It involves three injections, the quickest course being over three weeks with a booster at 12 months.
  • Japanese B Encephalitis - This mosquito-borne disease is not of great risk to travellers. It occurs in Asia. Consider the vaccination if spending a month or longer in a high risk area, making repeated trips to a risk area or visiting during an epidemic. It involves three injections over 30 days. The vaccine is expensive and has been associated with serious allergic reactions so the decision to have it should be balanced against the risk of contracting the illness.
  • Meninogococcal Meningitis - Healthy people carry this disease; it is transmitted like a cold and you can die from it within a few hours. There are many carriers and vaccination is recommended for travellers to certain parts of Asia, India, Africa and South America. It is also required of all Haj pilgrims entering Saudi Arabia. A single injection will give good protection for three years. The vaccine is not recommended for children under two years because they do not develop satisfactory immunity from it.
  • Polio - Polio is a serious, easily transmitted disease, still prevalent in many developing countries. Everyone should keep up to date with this vaccination. A booster every 10 years maintains immunity.
  • Rabies - Vaccination should be considered by those who will spend a month or longer in a country where rabies is common, especially if they are cycling, handling animals, caving, travelling to remote areas, or for children (who may not report a bite). Pretravel rabies vaccination involves having three injections over 21 to 28 days. If someone who has been vaccinated is bitten or scratched by an animal they will require two booster injections of vaccine, those not vaccinated require more.
  • Tetanus & Diphtheria - Tetanus can be a fatal wound infection and diphtheria can be a fatal throat infection Everyone should have these vaccinations. After an initial course of three injections, boosters are necessary every 10 years.
  • Tuberculosis - TB risk to travellers is usually very low. For those who will be living with or closely associated with local people in high risk areas such as Asia, Africa and some parts of the Americas and Pacific, there may be some risk. As most healthy adults do not develop symptoms, a skin test before and after travel to determine whether exposure has occurred may be considered. A vaccination is recommended for children living in these areas for three months or more.
  • Typhoid - This is an important vaccination to have where hygiene is a problem. Available either as an injection or oral capsules.
  • Yellow Fever - Yellow fever is now the only vaccine which is a legal requirement for entry into many countries, usually only enforced when coming from an infected area. Protection lasts 10 years and is recommended where the disease is endemic, eg Africa and South America. You usually have to go to a special yellow fever vaccination centre. Vaccination poses some risk during pregnancy but if you must travel to a high-risk area it is advisable; note that people allergic to eggs may not be able to have this vaccine. Discuss this with your doctor.
Malaria Medication
Antimalarial drugs do not prevent you from being infected but kill the malaria parasites during a stage in their development and significantly reduce the risk of becoming very ill or dying. Expert advice on medication should be sought, as there are many factors to consider including the area to be visited, the risk of exposure to malaria-carrying mosquitoes, the side effects of medication, your medical history and whether you are a child or adult or pregnant. Travellers to isolated area in high risk countries may like to carry a treatment dose of medication for use if symptoms occur.
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