With the July school holidays fast approaching, many people will be looking forward to enjoying a well-earned break from work. Many of us, however, forget that there can be health hazards associated with travel and that we should properly prepare for these if we don’t want them to spoil our holiday.
This is the view of Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Medicross Tokai, in Cape Town. He points out that certain areas pose specific medical risks to travellers, such as malaria, yellow fever, hepatitis, rabies, tetanus, Ebola, influenza or meningitis. We can take precautions against contracting many of these diseases through vaccination, prophylactic medication and by taking proper precautions when it comes to food and water intake.
Dr Vincent reports that there has been a diphtheria outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal with, according to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), 13 suspected cases including five deaths. This is due to non-adherence to South Africa’s Expanded Programme of Immunisation [EPI]. It is very important that all adult travellers consider a booster dose of a one-in-four vaccine that combines life long immunity for diphtheria, polio and whooping cough, as well as providing ten years cover for tetanus. The NICD also reported a case of rabies in a six-year-old in Limpopo recently. This emphasises the importance of teaching children not to touch any furry animal – as they will not be bitten if they do not touch.
Fears of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a new type of coronavirus, which includes the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), is growing daily in South Korea, which is battling the biggest outbreak of the disease outside the Middle East. Official figures indicate that 87 people have to date contracted the virus, while six people have died from this serious condition. More than 2 300 people are at present under quarantine while BBC News reports that nearly 1 900 schools will be closed for several days as the country grapples this illness. It remains unclear if the vector for this disease originates from bats or camels. However, its spread is due to non-adherence to basic hygiene rules, such as hand washing, coughing etiquette and barrier nursing.
“Internationally, Guinea and Sierra Leone remain high risk areas for Ebola and are best avoided. Yellow fever is prevalent in certain tropical areas of Africa and South America and travellers are required by law to be inoculated when travelling to these countries. It is very important to visit a Travel Clinic which can advise on your risk of exposure and whether a yellow fever vaccine is indicated.”
Dr Vincent advises travellers to do their research on the possible healthcare risks associated with their holiday destinations so that they can take all the necessary precautions to ensure they remain healthy while on holiday. “Your local travel clinic will be able to keep you up to date regarding local and international healthcare issues and should recommend steps you can take to protect the health of you and your family,” he notes.
An individual’s own health status may be as important a consideration as the holiday destination. If you suffer from chronic medical conditions, you should make sure that these will not be aggravated by your planned trip, that you take sufficient supplies of your chronic medication and that you will be able to get the necessary medical treatment if needed.”
Protecting your family
Dr Vincent advises travellers to consider the following when planning their vacation:
- Your destination – Certain destinations may pose specific medical risks such as malaria, yellow fever, meningitis or hepatitis. Most of these diseases can be avoided by vaccination, prophylactic medication and precautions regarding food and water consumption.
- The activities you plan – Are you going white-water rafting, diving, backpacking, bicycling or riding a scooter? Always remember to wear a helmet. Also, plan for the specific activities you will be undertaking.
- If you suffer from chronic medical conditions make sure that it is not likely to be aggravated by your planned trip. Check whether you will be able to get the necessary medical treatment if needed and that replacement of medicine will not pose problems if yours gets lost or damaged. It is wise to have copies of your prescription or the generic names of your medication on hand. Travel insurance that covers repatriation is an imperative.
- Your accommodation - If you will be staying in a five-star air-conditioned beach resort in Mombasa, you have a different risk profile than if you are staying in a hut in rural Brazil with the locals.
Travelling with young children
The prospect of air travel with babies or young children can be hard, not only for parents but also for fellow passengers. Airlines, not wishing to discourage either from travelling, go to great lengths to provide maximum comfort and convenience.
It is important to notify the airline at the time of booking, and at least 24 to 48 hours prior to departure, of the presence of a baby and his/her age. Some airlines are more flexible than others and require a shorter notice period. Please check with your travel agent and your travel clinic to ensure the health and wellbeing of your children.
Be vigilant around any water source and remember that, after traffic accidents, drowning is the most prevalent cause of mortality in travelling children.
Encourage everyone, particularly children, to look both ways before crossing a street, especially while travelling.
What to pack
- Small packs of sealed wet wipes
- Sunscreen Protection
- Insect repellents if appropriate
- Anti bacterial cream for cuts and abrasions and associated band-aids
- Self-treatment for travellers’ diarrhoea
- Self-treatment for respiratory infections
- A small pair of scissors and tweezers can also come in handy
- Chronic medication – always remember to take your medication along, together with copies of your prescription and the generic names of your medication
“If you’re travelling by air, make sure the items and packaging comply with airline requirements. The most important part of your holiday is to enjoy it to the fullest and to return home happy, healthy and safe,” concludes Dr Vincent.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Travel Clinics
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Wilson and Meggan Saville
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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