Holiday health - stay well while you're away

Caroline Cassidy

Holidays abroad are all about getting away from it all, relaxing and experiencing different cultures, but things can quickly turn from holiday heaven to holiday hell should you fall victim to illness.

holiday health tips
holiday health tips

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Before you head off to foreign climes, it's worth knowing the potential dangers and understanding how to cope should the worst happen.

Medical insurance, wherever you are travelling, is an essential. UK residents should get a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) from your local post office. This entitles you to reduced or free cover in any European Economic Area (EEA) country.

However, the EHIC may not cover you for repatriation in the event of illness or death, in many cases, so it is worth getting your own medical insurance too. Comparison sites are a good place to start but whatever policy you go for, be sure to read the small print, particularly if you are pregnant or have a pre-existing medical condition. Those on a thrill-seeking sporting or adventure holiday should make sure their insurance covers any injury sustained.

For anyone travelling further afield, immunisation will likely be required. Visit your GP at least six to 10 weeks before your date of travel (earlier if you will be away for more than a month) to check which injections you will need for your destination and whether malaria medication is required.

What to take
Obviously your health insurance documents should be safely stowed on your person, even when you are out and about on holiday. Carry them on your person as you never know when you might need them, and they will also alert medical staff of any pre-existing conditions or allergies to medications.

A basic first aid kit is also a good idea, particularly if you are backpacking or away for a long period of time, and these are readily available from pharmacists.

If you require prescription medication for a long-term condition, ensure that you have enough to last you the entire trip and check with your airline as to what is allowed in your hand luggage.

Common problems

Insect bites
Insects abroad can cause considerable problems if you are not careful as many carry diseases that are transferred through their seemingly innocuous bites. Always take a good insect repellent (your pharmacist or GP will be able to advise you on this) and make sure you reapply regularly to stay protected, particularly at dusk or if you are out in the countryside where the risk is often greater.

Strong perfume, aftershave or hair spray can attract mossies so avoid using them if you are in a risky area. Air-conditioning will help to keep insects to a minimum but a bed net impregnated with permethrin is advised in areas where sand flies or malaria-carrying mosquitoes are in evidence.

Stray animals, even in Europe, are far more prevalent in the UK and even the cutest puppy or kitten could pose a danger. A rabies vaccination is available so if you are worried, speak to your GP, but if you are not vaccinated, avoid petting stray animals just to be on the safe side.

If you are countryside bound, wear long trousers and boots for areas with thick undergrowth or long grass, and if you are camping out make sure your bed is raised off the ground. If you are bitten, get to a doctor as soon as possible.

Food and drink
We've all heard of Delhi Belly and diarrhoea is likely the most common ailment travellers suffer whilst abroad, particularly in developing countries.

It's not just unfamiliar food that causes problems - even water poses a risk in many countries. For this reason, it is essential to boil tap water before you drink it or, since it is so cheap abroad, opt for the bottled variety.

The same is true in restaurants so order an unopened bottle when you eat out and avoid ordering drinks with ice.

Should you fall victim to diarrhoea, make sure you drink plenty of water as dehydration can be a serious problem. If you are unable to retain fluid and the problem continues for more than 48 hours, seek medical help.

Sun safety
Cases of skin cancer are fast on the rise in the UK and even though it's tempting to soak up the sun when abroad, proper protection is a must.

Cover up or seek shade during the peak hours (11am to 3pm) and apply a generous covering of an appropriate SPF factor sun cream when you are out in the sun. Insect repellent should be applied on top of sun lotion if necessary.

So be safe not sorry this summer. For many of us, a holiday abroad is a once-a-year treat - don't let illness ruin it.