One thing to note that has always been the case well before the coronavirus, people who travel overseas have up to a 50 per cent chance of suffering a travel-related illness.
While most travel-related illnesses are minor, some very serious infectious diseases are endemic in some parts of the world. All travellers according to the smart traveller website should take some pre-travel steps in order to be prepared for travel and be aware of health issues and measures so that they can protect themselves from sickness.
Preparing for travel:
There are many things you can do to prepare for a healthy holiday, including:
- Have a medical check-up to make sure you are healthy before you travel
- Update your vaccinations and ask about other immunisations from a medical professional
- Pack a medical kit for yourself and any children travelling with you, and make sure you pack enough of any medications you need, or take a prescription
- Organise travel insurance, including cover if you need to be evacuated to a suitable hospital
- Have a dental check-up
- Have a vision check and pack a spare pair of glasses just in case you lose or break them
- Take Medicare card or copy of it with you
You may want to arrange vaccinations or medications to protect against diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid or malaria. In fact, some countries legally require travellers to have certain vaccinations, such as yellow fever. These may be required to be done some weeks or months before travel, it is best to see a doctor six to eight weeks before travel. However, if travel is required at short notice, it may still be ok to have some vaccines.
A medical professional / doctor will be able to advise which vaccines are suitable depending on the following:
- Medical history and age
- Travel destination and likely accommodation
- The season in which travelling
- The length of stay
- The type of travel, for example, bus tour or backpacking
Tips for older travellers:
For older people, the risk of death or serious illness while travelling is the same, or even less, than staying at home.
However, planning is important, so before travelling:
- See a doctor for a check-up and discuss your fitness for the trip you are planning
- See a dentist and optometrist
- Pack a spare pair of glasses, any medications you need and a small medical kit
- Organise travel health insurance with pre-existing illness cover if needed. Make sure it covers emergency evacuation
- Make sure routine immunisations are up to date and get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia
- Consider your back and joints – use luggage with built-in wheels
- Finding out about the medical facilities in the areas you will be visiting
- Making arrangements for wheelchairs, guide dogs and seating needs well in advance
- Getting a letter from your doctor detailing your medical requirements or conditions
- Carrying a medical alert bracelet or pendant for specific conditions.
- Take clothes and hats to suit the climate.
Eating and drinking while travelling:
The most common travel-related illnesses are gastrointestinal diseases, usually picked up from poorly prepared foods or untreated water. To avoid diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea and vomiting associated with these illnesses, use boiled or bottled water, or water purifiers or tablets.
Things to avoid:
- Avoid ice in drinks
- Avoid unpasteurised milk and dairy products
- Avoid fruit and vegetables that have been washed in the local water
- Eat thick-skinned fruit and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as bananas, oranges and mandarins
- Make sure food is cooked thoroughly and eat it while it’s hot
- Avoid shellfish
- Don’t buy food from street stalls – hotels and busy restaurants are safest
- Take care with personal hygiene
Avoid mosquito bites when travelling:
Some serious infectious diseases such as malaria, Zika virus, yellow fever and dengue fever, are transmitted by mosquitoes. While there are vaccines and medications available to help protect against some of these diseases, travellers are advised to always protect against mosquito bites.
Some tips include:
- Wear mosquito repellent that contains at least 30 per cent DEET or 20 per cent picaridin
- Stay indoors between dusk and dawn. The mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite generally feed at this time
- Clothing, bedding, mosquito nets and tents can be soaked in a safe repellent (such as permethrin) prior to travel
- Wear socks, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors
- Use a bed net
- Stay in air-conditioned, screened accommodation.
If you’re planning an overseas holiday, travel insurance should be an essential. Travel insurance can help cover the cost of accidents, illnesses and delays while travelling.
Types of travel insurance:
Most travel insurance policies will cover you for:
- Medical (level of cover varies based on pre-existing medical conditions)
- Cancellation and delays
- Lost or stolen baggage
- Car hire
The level of cover will change depending on whether it is international or domestic travel. Remember it’s important for people to spend the time to read the product disclosure statement (PDS) carefully to make sure they are getting the right type of cover and value for their spend.
Reciprocal health care agreements with Australia:
Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with 11 countries. These countries provide some emergency care to Australians. Most agreements specify the care must be urgent and medically necessary. They usually need a co-payment from the patient. Having said that, I was struck down with Pneumonia when I was Florence nearly two years ago and was hospitalised in one week in the oldest hospitals in Europe, Santa Maria Nouva founded in 1288.
Thankfully Italy is a country that reciprocal arrangement with Australia and all was covered via Medicare. It’s therefore important to take your Medicare Card or photo of it with you when travelling overseas. All it cost me was the medication I had to take when I was discharged that cost me a measly sum of $10 Euro.
Very important to check if the country you are travelling to has a reciprocal health treaty with Australia.
Countries with reciprocal health care agreements:
The Department of Human Services publishes details about Australia’s agreements that includes what services they cover.
Australia has reciprocal health care agreements with:
- New Zealand
- the Republic of Ireland
- United Kingdom
If you travel to a country without an agreement, you’re not covered, and should you need medical assistance, you or your insurer must pay the full cost of treatment. Many hospitals won’t treat you until you, your family or travel insurer pay upfront. For full details please visit:
And last but not least, please make sure all of your personal insurance policies are paid up to date and do not lapse whilst away. Income protection as we know provides 24/7 world-wide cover, it can also help elevate any stress should an accident or illness occur that could stop you from working for a lengthy period of time. Yes; I did claim on my IP for the time spent in hospital in Florence under the confined to be benefit that was paid out. You just never when and where you will need it!