Today’s blog comes from Michael Huxley, founder of Bemused Backpacker and a qualified charge nurse with a specific interest in emergency nursing and travel medicine. He’s been backpacking around the world on numerous gap and snap years for well over a decade.
Taking a big trip is one of the single most awesome, life changing experiences that you can ever give yourself. But for many people this dream adventure can also be a little daunting. Tales of malaria infested jungles and tropical diseases that leave you glued to the toilet for days are commonplace. Misinformation is rife and worrying can even put people off travel altogether.
Don’t let it.
A little preparation and the right knowledge before you leave can save you a lot of trouble later on and help make sure that you stay fit and healthy on the road and, if you are unfortunate enough to get sick, it can help get you back on your feet.
5 Health Questions Every Potential Traveller Should Ask.
Will I get sick?
Probably, but don’t panic.
Whether it is Montezuma’s revenge (ed. note: yeah we had to Google this too), Delhi Belly, the squits, the wildies or any number of other insalubrious monikers, if you are travelling for a long time then chances are you are going to pick up a bug or two.
Most of the time it won’t be serious. You don’t need to carry a first aid kit that takes up half your pack or take the entire stock cupboard of your local pharmacy with you (though do make sure you have a basic kit in your bag for emergencies).
For many basic bugs such as diarrhoea, the best thing to do is to rest up for a day or two, stay hydrated and get some nutrients back into your body from healthy food while the bug “passes through”. For anything a little more serious (and here we’re talking severe and prolonged cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting that lasts longer than a couple of days or has signs of blood etc) you will be able to get help. You’ll have to travel pretty far off the beaten track to be so far from clinical advice that you will have to take extra measures.
Do I need to worry about malaria or take antimalarials?
The answer to this is that, obviously, it depends on where you go! Check out the NHS website Fit For Travel which has an excellent malaria map for each country. Remember that some countries have a range of risks dependent on the area you head to – Peru for example is low to no risk of malaria along most of the coast, but is considered variable risk further inland and high risk in the north eastern jungle region.
Peru malaria map from Fit for Travel
If the area you are heading to is considered ‘high risk’ then antimalarials are usually the order of the day. If you are visiting an area that is low to no risk, then antimalarials aren’t usually advised. It really is that simple.
There are a lot of horror stories about side effects of antimalarials but don’t let them stop you taking them. Antimalarials affect different people very differently, and one person may have a lot of side effects, the next person may not have any. A chat with your nearest specialist travel health professional and a tester dose before you leave will help you figure out which medication is right for you.
Remember too that anti mosquito measures like nets, DEET spray and clothing are always advised, as these can help protect you from other mosquito borne diseases such as Dengue.
Do I need vaccinations?
Vaccination requirements differ from country to country and recommendations from health professionals will also take into account your medical history, what vaccinations you have already and what you will be doing.
Basically speaking not every vaccination is absolutely necessary, but it is important you get all your basic “routine” and “strongly recommended” vaccinations and boosters, and weigh up the risks of the “sometimes recommended” vaccinations for yourself. An appointment with a travel health specialist will help you decide this.
Cute, cute (possibly rabid) monkeys
Do I need to see a professional?
Yes and, I can’t stress this enough, do NOT leave things to the last minute! It’s recommended that you visit your GP, specialist nurse or travel clinic at least ten weeks before you plan to travel as some vaccinations take at least that to become effective.
Do I need Health Insurance?
No one likes insurance: fact. I hate handing over my hard earned money on what feels like just a piece of paper. But I do because, as pieces of paper go, it’s as essential as your passport.
Odds are you won’t have to use it but, on the slim chance something does happen to you on your travels, then medical expenses can be the size of an average mortgage in central London and I will guarantee you will be thanking every god and deity you have ever heard of that you have it then.
In short keeping healthy on your trip is much like planning every other aspect; research, plan, organise and don’t be overly paranoid. A tin foil helmet isn’t a good look anywhere in the world.