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Health

Articles to be found on this page have diverse interests including: How to stay healthy on your trip, Emergencies and, tips and hints on all of the above.

Of special note: on this page are two comprehensive articles - the Australian Federal Government's Staying Healthy and, The State Government of Victoria's Travel Health Tips.

Readers can refer to the table of contents at right for fast navigation - GC.

- accessed by GC 20/02/2011

How can I improve plane travel?

Most people don't have any problems when they fly, but it's possible to make airplane travel safer and more comfortable. Here are some tips:

  • Carry enough of all of your medicines to last your whole trip in your carry-on luggage. Ask your doctor whether you should change your dosages if your eating and sleeping times will change at your destination. Take extra medicine with you in case your return trip is delayed.
  • If you have diabetes or epilepsy, carry a notification and identification card (such as the "Diabetes Alert Card" from the American Diabetes Association). Have the name and phone number of your doctor with you in case of an emergency. Remember to bring along the names and dosages of all of your medicines.
  • The air in airplanes is dry, so drink nonalcoholic, decaffeinated beverages and water to avoid becoming dehydrated.

What can I do about jet lag?

  • Get plenty of sleep before you leave.
  • Don't drink a lot of alcohol.
  • Eat well-balanced meals.
  • Avoid overeating.
  • Exercise as much as you can on your trip.
  • Use sleep medicines for only a few days.
  • Get used to a new time zone by going along with the local meal and bedtime schedules.

Melatonin may help with jet lag, but no one knows how long it can be used safely. Tell your doctor if you plan to take melatonin or any other herbal or alternative medicines.

What about pain in my ears?

If your ears hurt when you fly, try taking a decongestant medicine (such as pseudoephedrine) before you get on the plane. You can also swallow often and chew gum during the flight. Babies can suck on bottles or pacifiers during the flight.

What else should I do?

Even healthy people can get blood clots in their legs after long flights. Try to walk every now and then during your flight (unless the crew tells you not to). It also helps to drink water, stretch your calf muscles while you're sitting and wear support stockings.

If your doctor wants you to take oxygen when you travel, remember to tell the airline about this well in advance of your flight. The airline will probably provide oxygen for you for a fee. Federal air regulations don't allow you to carry your own oxygen unit on a plane. You'll have to make arrangements ahead of time for oxygen at your destination and also for layovers between flights. You can also arrange for special meals or a wheelchair ahead of time if needed.

It's dangerous to fly immediately after scuba diving. You'll need to wait 12 to 24 hours after diving. Ask your doctor or diving authorities for guidelines on flying after scuba diving. 

More Information

Travel Health Tips

- by the State Government of Victoria on Better Health Channel

- accessed by GC 20/02/2011

People who travel overseas have up to a 50 per cent chance of suffering a travel-related illness. While most travel-related illness is minor, some very serious infectious diseases are endemic in some parts of the world. All travellers should be prepared for travel and be aware of health issues and measures to protect themselves from sickness.

Before you travel

There are many things you can do to prepare for a healthy holiday:

  • Have a medical check-up. Make sure you are healthy before you travel.
  • Update your vaccinations and ask about other immunisations.
  • Pack a medical kit for yourself and any children travelling with you. Make sure you pack enough of any medications you need, or take a prescription.
  • Organise travel insurance, including cover if you need to be evacuated to a suitable hospital.
  • Have a dental checkup.
  • Have a vision check and pack a spare pair of glasses.

Vaccinations

You may want to arrange vaccinations or drugs to protect against diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid or malaria. In fact, some countries legally require travellers to have certain vaccinations, such as yellow fever. As you will need to have some vaccinations weeks or months before travel, it is best to see your doctor six to eight weeks before you go. However, if you have to travel at short notice, you can still have some vaccines. Your doctor will be able to advise which vaccines are suitable depending on:

  • Your medical history and age
  • Your destination and likely accommodation
  • The season in which you are travelling
  • The length of stay
  • The type of travel, for example bus tour or backpack.Tips for older travellers
For older people, the risk of death or serious illness while travelling is the same, or even less, than staying at home. However, planning is important and older travellers should consider the following before they travel:
  • See your doctor for a checkup and discuss your fitness for the trip you are planning.
  • See your dentist and optometrist.
  • Pack a spare pair of glasses, any medications you need and a small medical kit.
  •  Organise travel health insurance with pre-existing illness cover if needed. Make sure it covers emergency evacuation.
  • Make sure routine immunisations are up-to-date and get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia.
  • Consider your back - use luggage with built in wheels.
  • Take clothes and hats to suit the climate.
  • If concerned about your health, consider taking an organised holiday.

Tips for travellers with a disability

Travellers with a disability will need to make sure in advance that their needs can be accommodated while travelling and should consider the following:

  • Make arrangements for wheelchairs, guide dogs, and seating needs well in advance.
  • Find out about the medical facilities in the areas you will be visiting.
  • Get a letter from your doctor detailing your medical requirements or conditions.
  • Carry a Medic-alert tag.

While you are there - eat and drink wisely

The most common travel related illnesses are gastrointestinal diseases usually picked up from poorly prepared foods or untreated water. To avoid the diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea and vomiting associated with these illnesses:

  • Use boiled or bottled water, or water purifiers or tablets.
  • Avoid ice in drinks.
  • Avoid unpasteurised milk and dairy products.
  • Avoid fruit and vegetables that have been washed in the local water.
  • Eat thick-skinned fruit and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as bananas, oranges and mandarins.
  • Make sure food is cooked thoroughly and eat it while it’s hot.
  • Avoid shellfish.
  • Don’t buy food from street stalls - hotels and busy restaurants are safest.
  • Take care with personal hygiene.

While you are there - avoid insect bites

Some serious infectious diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever, are transmitted by insect bites. While there are vaccines and drugs available to help protect against some of these diseases, travellers are advised to always protect against mosquito bites. Some tips include:

  • Wear mosquito repellent that contains at least 30 per cent DEET.
  • Stay indoors between dusk and dawn. The mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite generally feed at this time.
  • Apply repellent, such as permethrin, to your clothes and bedding.
  • Wear socks, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors.
  • Use a bed net.
  • Stay in airconditioned, screened accommodation.
Protect yourself against sexually transmitted diseases

HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are endemic in many countries, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Safe sex practices are essential.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Travel Clinics Australia Tel. 1300 369 359 (for appointments)
  • Travel Clinics Infoline Tel. 1900 969 359 (calls charged at 99 cents per minute incl. GST - higher rates from mobiles & public phones) or website
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Travel Advice Tel. 1300 139 281

Things to remember

  • Overseas travellers have a 50 per cent chance of suffering from a travel-related illness.
  • The most common travel-related sickness is gastrointestinal infection which is generally picked up from poorly prepared food and untreated water.
  • Have a medical checkup to make sure you are healthy before you travel.
  • Discuss vaccinations with your doctor.
  • Be prepared and aware of health issues when travelling.

- by the Australian Government on smartraveller.com.au

- accessed by GC 19/02/2011

Health checks

Make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up at least six to eight weeks before you depart to find out if any vaccinations or further health checks are required.

It is recommended that if you need medication you:

  • discuss with your doctor the medication you will need to take
  • carry a letter from your doctor detailing what the medication is, how much you will be taking, and stating that it is for your own personal use
  • leave the medication in its original packaging so it is clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions.

Take along a spare pair of glasses or a copy of the prescription as they can be easily lost or broken.

If you are taking Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) medication with you, be aware that since the National Health Act was amended in 1999, it has been an offence to carry or post PBS medicines overseas, unless it is for personal use. Additional information is available from www.health.gov.au or by phoning the PBS information line on 1800 020 613.

More information on travelling with medication is available from www.medicareaustralia.gov.au or by phoning the Overseas Drug Diversion information line on 1800 500 147.

Take enough medication to cover the length of your trip. If you need to purchase locally, be careful not to buy imitation or counterfeit medications and prescription drugs. Be aware that packaging and labelling may be similar to those available in Australia, but the strength and active ingredients can vary.

Always check the strength of a medication with a doctor. Do not buy off-the-shelf medication even if an Australian doctor has prescribed it, as strengths may vary from country to country.

If you have to inject your medication, it may be preferable to carry your own needles and syringes, if it is authorised in the countries you are visiting. If you have to buy them overseas ensure they are sealed and sterile.

If you have pre-existing medical conditions you may wish to purchase a Medic Alert bracelet or necklace to wear while travelling. Application forms are available at chemists in Australia. Medic Alert Foundation keeps a database of patients’ details and medical history, and can be contacted from within Australia on 1800 8822 22 or visit www.medicalert.com.au. In an emergency, call the number on the Medic Alert bracelet or necklet.

Vaccinations

  • new vaccines are constantly being released but diseases continue to evolve
  • it is never too late to vaccinate, however some vaccines require a long period to take effect and more than one dose may be needed
  • you may need boosters for childhood vaccines
  • health risks within a country can vary from one region to another and local authorities may be slow to announce outbreaks of disease
  • new diseases can appear suddenly, as happened with the outbreak of the Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza. Check the latest travel advice and travel bulletins for your destination before you depart and while travelling so you can ensure you have the latest information
  • common illnesses that travellers can pick up include those which result from unsafe sex and eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Find out whether tap water and local food is safe to consume before you depart
  • there are a number of mosquito-borne diseases you can contract while overseas, particularly in tropical areas. Be sure to take measures to avoid being bitten such as wearing light coloured, loose fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs, regularly applying an appropriate insect repellent and staying in mosquito-proof accommodation.

Additional health tips

  • If you are prescribed anti-malarial medication, take it as directed e.g. prior to leaving, while in risk areas and when you return.
  • Make up a small medical kit, including items such as headache tablets, antacids, antiseptic lotion, cotton wool, band-aids, latex gloves, safety pins, SPF 30+ sunscreen and an appropriate insect repellent.
  • If your trip will involve an increase to your usual physical activity, such as a lot of walking, gradually build up your fitness (after receiving clearance from your doctor) weeks, or preferably months, before you depart.
  • Find out whether essentials are readily available at your destination. In some countries supplies of feminine hygiene products, nappies and contraceptives, including condoms, can be unreliable or unavailable, so it may be best to stock up before you leave.
  • Do not try to save luggage space by combining medications into one container. Keep all medication in the original container to avoid problems with Customs officials.

Case study

Don and Claudia and their best friends Chris and Louise were talking and dreaming about safaris and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for over twenty years. Time had come to realise their dream. Their travel agent had arranged tailored comprehensive travel insurance for all their needs. Their doctor had cleared their fitness and health conditions for their challenging trip to East Africa. They had a supply of medication for their respective minor health conditions and left Australia feeling well-prepared. After having a fabulous time on safari in Kenya, everyone was looking forward to their climb up Kilimanjaro. Knowing that steep climbing triggers his asthma, Don put a ventolin respirator in his backpack and another one in the pocket of his trousers. On arrival at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, the tour guide told his group to leave their backpacks, drinks and all non essential equipment in the bus as everything needed would be provided on the way to and back from the summit. About one third through the climb Don started to feel short of breath and realised that it was time to use his respirator to regain his breath. He could not find the one he had put in his pocket and started to get very worried because he had not taken the spare one from his backpack. He kept slowing down and breathing more heavily. Claudia realised what was happening and immediately gave him the spare respirator that she always carries. Don had fully recovered after ten minutes and reached the summit with his friends. Claudia’s simple planning ahead avoided a potential medical emergency for Don and the group was able to continue and enjoy their holiday together.

In the air

  • Keep important medication with you in case your luggage goes missing.
  • Continue taking your prescribed medication.
  • Factor the effects of jet lag into your itinerary.
  • If you have been scuba diving, do not travel in an aircraft for at least 24 hours after your final dive.
  • To help avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT):
      • drink plenty of fluids (but avoid alcohol and caffeine)
      • stretch your feet and lower legs while seated
      • walk around the cabin at regular intervals.

On the ground

  • Exercise within your limits - especially in hot climates.
  • Where local tap water is not safe:
      • only use bottled water to drink and brush your teeth and always check the seal
      • do not put ice in drinks - freezing preserves germs, rather than kills them
      • avoid uncooked food, including salads and fruit that you cannot peel.
  • Include rest time in your travel itinerary.
  • Wear comfortable shoes, a hat and sunscreen for sightseeing.
  • Wear a pair of thongs when showering.
  • Always take spare medication when going on excursions.
  • Practise safe sex as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are widespread in many countries.

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