Preventing Illness and Injury

Over 50 % of travellers will be affected by a travel related illness, most of which are mild infections, but severe illnesses like malaria and dengue fever can be contracted in endemic parts of the world.

Many illnesses are preventable with travel vaccinations, some illnesses require preventative medications for others changes in eating patterns or personal habits will help prevent infection.

Gastrointestinal infections

Traveller’s diarrhea and other gastrointestinal infections are the most commonly reported travel illnesses, contracted from poorly prepared food or contaminated water.  The following tips reduce risk of developing gut infections.

  • Avoid tap water and ice in drinks
  • Use bottled water, carbonated drinks, boiled water or use water purification methods
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or other dairy products
  • Be wary of vegetables and fruits that may have been washed in local water
  • Prefer fruits and vegetables that can be peeled or washed in safe water
  • Eat only freshly cooked hot foods
  • Avoid foods from street stalls, overall food prepared in restaurants and hotels is safer
  • Avoid shellfish
  • Care with personal hygiene

Medications to treat traveller’s diarrhea are safe, effective and simple to use.  Antibiotics combined with antidiarrheal medications will effectively treat most diarrheal illness within 1-3 days. In some patients preventative treatment may be required.

Other preventable infections

Malaria

Severe illness from malaria is preventable using malaria prophylaxis medications. What treatment is used, and for how long depends on the patient and the destination. Malarone (atovaquone/ proguanil), Doxycycline and Larium (mefloquine) are some examples. These medications are taken before entering the malaria area, during stay and for a variable time after leaving the malaria area. Some patients in remote areas may require standby treatments for malaria or may need to use malaria detection kits to self diagnose if they cannot access health care if they become ill.

Some other less common illnesses like Leptospirosis can also be prevented with prophylactic medications.

Mosquito and other insect borne Diseases

Diseases such Dengue fever, Yellow fever, Chikuungunya and Malaria are transmitted by mosquito bite. Others are transmitted by tick, sand fly or bug bites. Some diseases are preventable by medication or vaccination but many are not. Travellers to at risk areas should prevent insect bites by using personal insect repellant (those containing 30 % – 50% DEET) and by keeping arms and legs covered with light coloured long pants and long sleeved clothing, and wearing covered footwear.  Air conditioning or insect screens on accommodation and bed nets also reduce risk of bites.

Sexually transmitted Illness

Be aware and be safe!  Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and gonorrhea are more common in some countries compared with Australia. Avoiding contact with sexual health workers, and using condoms reduces risk of infection.

Injury

Injury when travelling is common, mostly related to motor vehicle or motorbike accident, drowning, watersport injury and other sporting injuries. Be safe driving, especially when driving on the opposite side of the road, wear seatbelts, and follow the local road rules.  Wear helmets when riding, and don’t ride a motorbike if inexperienced. Don’t swim or engage in sport when affected by drugs or alcohol.