At the start of the summer holidays, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) South West is reminding summer travellers of simple steps to reduce their risk of common infections when travelling abroad.
Professor Dominic Mellon, Deputy Director at UKHSA South West said: “Most travellers have a healthy and safe trip, however, we do see various infections in returning travellers such as diarrhoeal illness, measles, malaria, dengue and other infections carried by mosquitoes. Following these steps will help make sure you enjoy a safe and happy holiday abroad this year.”
Look up the local health risks before you go
Information on specific health risks, including recommended vaccinations, can be found from the country-specific advice on the TravelHealthPro website, and from the foreign travel advice on GOV.UK.
Check if you need vaccines
It’s important to check your vaccination record before travelling. Some countries will have specific vaccine requirements or entry restrictions, so it’s essential to have the necessary vaccinations to avoid any complications or travel disruptions.
To find out which vaccinations you need, contact your local travel health clinic or GP surgery before you travel. If you have pre-existing health problems an earlier appointment is advised even if you don’t need vaccines or malaria tablets.
Aside from travel vaccinations, it is also important to make sure you or your family are up to date with vaccinations in England’s routine immunisation programmes, including measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), as these infections are more common in some countries than in the UK.
Watch what you eat and drink
UKHSA has detected an increase in gastrointestinal infections in travellers returning from Turkey, with 241 cases of Salmonella enteritidis detected since the beginning of this year.
Regardless of your destination, being mindful of what you eat and drink while travelling is important to avoid potentially serious foodborne illnesses, spread by eating and drinking contaminated food or water.
Simple steps can reduce your risk of infection, including washing hands thoroughly especially after using the toilet and before preparing or eating food. Ensure foods are cooked or reheated thoroughly and perishable foods are kept cool in the fridge or freezer where possible.
Good options for travellers are:
– recently prepared thoroughly-cooked food that is served piping hot
– fruit that can be peeled by the traveller, such as bananas and oranges
– pasteurised dairy produce, such as yoghurts, milk and cheese
More advice on water and food hygiene to practice while you travel can be found on the TravelHealthPro website.
Gastrointestinal illness can be more severe for pregnant women, adults aged 65 years and over, children aged 5 years or under, people with underlying health conditions as well as those with weakened immune systems.
Most symptoms are mild but if you experience any severe symptoms such as an unpleasant diarrhoeal illness with stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever during your travel, rest and consume plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. The NHS website has information on looking after yourself when you have diarrhoea and vomiting and when to seek help from a healthcare professional.
Be aware of heat health
Temperatures are soaring across Europe. Drink plenty of water to help prevent dehydration and protect yourself by regularly applying sunscreen with a broad spectrum of SPF of 15 or higher, and wearing protective clothing, such as hats and sunglasses. Follow advice from local public health agencies where you are visiting.
Protect yourself against mosquito bites
Mosquito bites are common in most warm destinations. While these are mostly harmless, some can spread diseases such as dengue, zika or malaria. Due to climate change, we are seeing the spread of some more serious mosquito-borne infections in new areas where they were not previously found, including popular holiday destinations in mainland Europe. For example, cases of West Nile virus and dengue transmitted by mosquitoes have been reported in Europe. It’s always a good idea to check the TravelHealthPro website for country-specific information so that you’re aware of the risks locally.
Malaria is another illness caused by mosquitoes; it can be fatal, so it must be quickly diagnosed and treated. Speak to a healthcare professional before you travel about anti-malaria medication if you are traveling to a malaria risk country.
Follow the usual precautions to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes; wear loose-fitting clothing, wear long sleeves and long trousers, cover exposed skin and use insect repellents (for example, 50% DEET). Sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets is also an effective way to protect against mosquito bites.
If you visit a malaria risk area, seek urgent medical attention if you notice fever and flu-like symptoms. Don’t wait until you return to the UK if you are unwell.
Stay safe from rabies
Rabies is a serious and almost invariably fatal illness. You may be at risk if you come into contact with saliva from an infected animal through a bite, scratch or lick on broken skin.
Pre-exposure vaccines are recommended for travellers visiting a place where rabies is present in animals. A record of vaccination should be carried and shown to those administering emergency treatments in a post-exposure situation. You can speak to a GP or travel clinic for more information on how you can get a pre-exposure vaccine.
Rabies is found in warm-blooded mammals; this includes cats, dogs, monkeys, and bats. Avoid contact with wild and domestic animals where possible. After an animal bite, scratch, or lick on broken skin, follow these steps:
– Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.
– Apply a suitable disinfectant to the wound.
– Apply a simple dressing to the wound.
– Seek medical attention locally.
– You may be advised to start rabies post-exposure treatment, but always contact your GP on return to the UK to complete any treatment required.
Keep safe from sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
– You might meet new sexual partners while travelling and this could increase the risk of an STI. Drug-resistant forms of STIs are more common in some parts of the world.
If you’ve had oral sex or condomless sex abroad with a new sexual partner, get tested for STIs when you return to the UK before further sexual activity. You can do this by using self-sampling STI kits or by visiting a local sexual health clinic.
This blog contains more information about antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea and staying well while travelling.
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