Modern air travel is remarkably safe, and normally poses no significant challenges to your health. Overall, travelling can be fun, and most people don't get sick. However, travelling by air does come with an increase in some health risks. Knowing what to look out for, and following the advice given below, can help you avoid these risks. If you do get sick, rest up, keep up your fluids and consider…
Travel medical assessment
What happens during a travel medical assessment?
During a travel medical assessment, your doctor may ask questions about exactly where you will be travelling, how long you will be there and any activities you are planning on doing. These questions might seem like polite conversation, but actually they are all very important. Depending on how you answer these questions, your doctor may give the following travel-related medical recommendations.
Recommendations for travel
Depending on where you are travelling, a range of travel vaccines are available, including:
- Yellow fever vaccine;
- Typhoid fever vaccine;
- Cholera vaccine;
- Meningococcal vaccine;
- Hepatitis A vaccine;
- Hepatitis B vaccine;
- Japanese encephalitis vaccine, and;
- Rabies vaccine.
Food and water
A range of different infections can be caught by consuming contaminated food and drink, including typhoid fever, hepatitis A and cholera. In places where sanitation is poor, it helps to take some precautions with food, including:
- Not drinking unpasteurized dairy products;
- Not drinking or brushing your teeth with unboiled tap water or eating uncooked food that may have been washed in it (such as salad);
- Not drinking beverages with ice, and;
- Not eating raw vegetables, unpeeled fruit, raw or undercooked meat, fish, or shellfish.
For more information see 'Food safety while travelling'.
Insect and tick bites
In some areas, insects such as mosquitoes, flies, fleas and lice, or arthropods such as ticks and mites, can transmit potentially dangerous infections such as malaria. It is best to pack insect repellents while travelling, ensuring they do not break safety regulations (such as is the case for aerosol cans in airplanes). You can lower your risk by taking precautions, including:
- Using insect repellents;
- Avoiding insect, tick and mite-infested areas when possible, including stagnant water sources;
- Using mosquito-netting treated with insecticide, over your bedding;
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers to protect yourself from being bitten;
- Checking yourself regularly for ticks and mites, removing them promptly, and;
- Minimizing your time spent outside, especially during sunset and after dark.
Some people are more sexually active during their travels. It is important to remember some sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) are more common in certain places. For example, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is more common in sub-Saharan Africa. If you are sexually active during your travels, remember that barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, can help reduce your risk of acquiring STIs.
Travelling with medical conditions
No matter what your condition, while travelling, remember to keep taking your prescription medication as directed by your doctor. It is also important to consider travel health insurance.
Some countries will not allow people with HIV to enter them, so be sure to check with travel authorities when you are planning your travel. It is important to also make sure there are adequate medical facilities at your destination, should you need any care. You may not be able to receive certain travel vaccines. It is very important to take all your medications as prescribed by your doctor.
If you take insulin for your diabetes, it is important to speak to your doctor before you travel about the timing of your doses when travelling over time zones. Remember to pack your insulin, glucagon or oral medications, as well as any snacks in your carry-on luggage so it is always accessible. If you carry syringes, you will need a note from your doctor outlining why you need them. It is also a good idea to wear a necklace or bracelet with your medical details and emergency contact listed.
Most women are able to travel safely while pregnant, although airlines may restrict travel later in pregnancy. Depending on the type of travel and the associated risks, the decision to travel should be made on a case-by-case basis. For example, women who have previously experienced complications during pregnancy are generally advised not to do any extensive travel during future pregnancies.
Travel to certain regions, such as where malaria is prevalent, is generally not advisable, because contracting these illnesses may pose threats to you and your baby. The safety of medications that help prevent and treat malaria has not been tested in pregnancy. There are certain travel vaccines and antibiotics that pregnant women cannot be given.
Some of the following tips may help you in your travels:
- Having a small medical pack with the essentials, such as any prescription medications, insect repellent, a first aid kit and sunscreen;
- Working on improving your fitness gradually before you travel, if your activities during travel will involve a lot of physical activity;
- Speaking to your doctor before you travel if you are planning on staying at high altitude. Altitude sickness can affect healthy, fit people too;
- Avoiding air travel within 24 hours of scuba diving;
- Packing a spare pair of prescription glasses in case you lose one, and;
- Allow jet lag in your itinerary, to give yourself time to recover before starting activities.