Nurse: Next, please.
Philip: Hi. I’m scheduled to take a trip to East Asia and the Indian subcontinent later this year and am wondering what jabs I need.
Nurse: OK, let me have a look. Recommended inoculations for south-east Asia are typhoid, dengue fever, and malaria. As for India, well you need a veritable smorgasbord: hepatitis A, hep B, typhoid, polio, Japanese encephalitis and rabies. However, we can probably skip a couple of those if you are sticking to major urban areas.
Philip: Actually, I’m going to be out and about in the countryside quite a bit. It’s a bit of a rural safari.
Nurse: I see. In which case I think it is better to be safe than sorry. When do you head out?
Philip: Not for another 4 months.
Nurse: Plenty of time then. Can I ask how up-to-date you are on your other vaccinations? Have you had a DPT or Tdap booster in the past ten years?
Philip: I don’t know what those are.
Nurse: Oh, it’s the new-fangled name for the TB shot. Covers diphtheria too.
Philip: To be honest, I can’t remember the last time a doctor was let loose on my arm. I suppose I’ll need to add one of those to my wish list too. Lucky me.
Anna: Umm, hi. I’m heading out to sub-Saharan Africa in a couple of weeks. I’m pretty sure I need some vaccines, or tablets, or something. I don’t want to keel over with malaria.
Receptionist: Indeed you will need some vaccines. Hep B, yellow fever, rabies, malaria; all the nice ones.
Anna: Quite. I also need to pick up some other stuff, you know in case I get stomach issues and whatnot.
Receptionist: OK, we sell a selection of traveler’s medicines, and also first aid kits.
Anna: What sort of medicines are we talking about?
Receptionist: Nothing too dramatic: stuff to stop diarrhea; rehydration tablets; aspirin and paracetamol. Plus a few preventive measures: iodine and chlorine for water, sunscreen, insect repellant. You know.
Anna: OK, let’s get to it. First, let’s schedule the shots, then I’ll get on to the shopping.
Generally, I have enjoyed good luck with my health during my travels (touch wood). Sure, there have been a few upset stomachs, a headache or two, and touch of heatstroke, but on the whole everything has been plain sailing. I guess I have been blessed with a strong immune system and an iron stomach.
My old college flatmate, on the other hand, had a reputation for getting sick whenever he left the country. When he went backpacking around south-east Asia he caught a severe bout of food-poisoning and was laid up in bed for a week, and his tour of Central America was a complete disaster: he caught some exotic bug that wreaked havoc with his guts and knocked him off his feet for a month (he still can’t bring himself to eat tacos). His journeys abroad became a running joke (albeit a joke he never found amusing), although to his credit, he never let the jokes or the illnesses curb his enthusiasm for travel.
I guess my day will come and I’ll get struck down by some tropical disease, but until that day I’ll also keep globetrotting whenever I have the money and opportunity. After all, you can’t live your life wrapped in cotton wool and scared of the world.
The following is a simple check-list to stay healthy whilst traveling:
- Make sure you have all the necessary vaccinations up-to-date, including those specifically required for the area to which you are traveling. Bring proof.
- Bring any prescription medication you might need, and the prescription
- Also bring spare glasses or contact lenses
- Bring the key over-the-counter medications: diarrhea medication, rehydration salts, pain killers, antihistamine, etc.
- A basic medical kit – including bandages, tape, and tweezers – can be useful
- If going to a place with poor medical facilities, bring a more comprehensive medical kit, including clean syringes and latex gloves.
- Remember prevention is better than cure: sunscreen, insect repellent, water purification tablets, condoms, mosquito net, and even a hat can keep you safe.
- Have an idea where the nearest medical facilities are and how to contact them
- Stay away from animals, high-risk transport, high-risk food (that made with unclean water, left at room temperature, or dubious ‘bushmeat’) and activities such as unsafe sex or drug abuse.
- Keep track of the weather reports: both heat and cold can be extremely dangerous