From checking local disease risks to vital vaccinations, a new campaign is urging Brits to get health checks before travelling. LISA SALMON reports
If you’re visiting a country where there’s a risk of serious illness, such as malaria, yellow fever and rabies, you’ll certainly want to have considered these and taken any necessary precautionary steps before jetting off.
The number of British people venturing beyond Europe and North America on holiday has more than tripled in the last 30 years - yet a new survey by Sanofi Pasteur suggests only 17% of UK holidaymakers get a travel health risk assessment before going abroad, despite these being easily available from GP surgeries, private health clinics and even some pharmacies. Furthermore, 43% don’t check if travel vaccinations are recommended for the destination they’re visiting.
“From my experience, people consider travel health when it’s too late - either they don’t leave enough time before their trip to take the recommended precautions, or they only think about it having returned with a travel-related illness,” says Media GP Dr Christian Jessen, who, along with adventurer Ben Fogle has teamed up with Sanofi Pasteur on a campaign to encourage everybody to seek travel health advice while planning their trips.
“Talk through any potential health risks your holiday and any activities may pose with a healthcare professional before you travel,” Jessen adds. “By reducing your chances of getting sick, you’ll be more likely to enjoy your trip to the fullest.”
Father-of-two Fogle once contracted leishmaniasis - a disease caused by parasites and spread by sandflies - while abroad, so knows how real the risks can be. “I now always make sure I speak to a healthcare professional before I travel about the risks to which I might be exposed,” says Fogle. “When we go on a family trip, of course we want to relax but we also want to explore the local surroundings. We like tasting local food, taking trips into nature and seeing the local wildlife, so it’s important we take our travel health seriously.”
Unsure where to start? You can always ask if your GP surgery provides the service, and useful information sources include Travel Health Pro (travelhealthpro.org.uk), NHS Fit for Travel (fitfortravel.nhs.uk) and Smarter Traveller (smarter-traveller.co.uk).
Here, Dr Jessen outlines six reasons for taking travel health advice before you head on holiday...
1. You don’t want to be ill on holiday
No one wants to be ill on holiday - it’s unpleasant, can cut your trip short, and can be expensive. People can spend a lot of time planning their trips and lots of money too, so making sure you take your travel health seriously is really important.
There are plenty of things you can do to reduce the risk of becoming ill when abroad. I’d encourage everyone to visit a GP or pharmacist for a travel health risk assessment well before you travel, check you’ve had the correct vaccinations for your destination, be sensible about your sun exposure, and consider what you eat and drink while abroad.
2. Some diseases have no treatment and can be fatal
Diseases such as malaria, sadly, kill millions of people around the world every year. Even a bad case of gastroenteritis, diarrhoea and vomiting can leave you dehydrated and susceptible to other illnesses. Wherever you choose to visit, your travel health needs to be taken very seriously, especially if you’re travelling to a country with a poor infrastructure, or access to healthcare is limited. Again, I’d encourage everyone to get a travel health risk assessment before travel, so you’re aware of all the potential risks and how you can mitigate them.
3. You could bring a serious illness back with you, infecting friends and family
When you’re ill, obviously the first place you want to be is at home among your comforts. However, it’s absolutely critical to remember your illness may be contagious, and you may be putting your family and yourself at further risk.
If you think you might have an infectious illness, like diarrhoea, it’s paramount you maintain high standards of hygiene, such as consistent hand-washing and ensuring you have clean towels. If you have more than one bathroom, it’s best to commandeer one all to yourself, both for your health and the health of your family.
4. You could be at risk of travel-related disease even in a posh hotel
Illnesses don’t care about the star rating of your hotel. Ice is still made from local water, food is imported into the resorts, and mosquitoes can fly - so quite honestly, the standard of your accommodation makes no difference to your risk of travel-related illness.
Granted, when a healthcare professional carries out a travel health risk assessment, they may ask whether you’re staying in a tent in the wilderness or in a five-star hotel, as the activities you choose to undertake while abroad do impact the travel health advice you’ll receive. This, however, doesn’t mean you’re risk-free if you’re staying in a posh hotel.
5. Areas of risk can change - never assume you don’t need vaccinations for your trip
I’m a huge advocate for vaccinations. When you see children dying of preventable diseases, it really does give you perspective. If science has a way of allowing us to help avoid diseases that can kill thousands every year, it’d be foolish to not take advantage of that. I’d recommend seeking the latest travel advice to ensure you’re fully protected, as areas of risk and travel health advice can often change.
6. You might need proof of vaccination against certain diseases before you enter or leave some countries
It’s sometimes a legal requirement to ensure you have certain vaccinations before entering countries. If you’re unsure, book a travel health risk assessment to help protect you against travel-related illnesses.