(October 2011) by Dr Bruce Sutherland
New Zealanders love to travel. Often this involves going from a place of low risk to areas of high risk. In addition, we often do things abroad that we wouldn’t do at home. There are a lot of things abroad that can hurt you and only some of these are infections. Consider where you are going, how long you are going for and what risks you may encounter whilst overseas.
Update preexisting vaccinations. Your doctor may advise updating influenza, tetanus, polio or measles vaccinations. These are usually inexpensive and easy to do in the surgery. New vaccinations. Discuss vaccinations with your GP at least four weeks before your travel. Some vaccinations require a course of injections over several weeks, for example Hepatitis A. Other vaccinations require referral to a certified travel clinic for administration, e.g. yellow fever. Some countries refuse entry with out yellow fever vaccination.
You may require medications to prevent infections. For example, malaria. Malaria treatment needs to be started one week before, and continued until two weeks after visiting a malarial area, as the parasite can ‘hide’ in the blood stream. Other medications are to be taken to treat illness such as antibiotics for travellers' diarrhea.
Don’t rely on vaccinations alone. Avoid mammal bites. Any mammal (no matter how cute) can carry rabies and rabies can be fatal. Avoid insect bites. Even while taking medication one can still contract malaria. Cover up, sleep under a net and wear light coloured clothes. Use DEET containing repellant and avoid going out at dawn and dusk when the malarial mosquito is about.
Most travel incidents are not caused by infections but more often by illness, crime or accident. Update all regular medications and ask your GP for a travel letter. Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance and declare any pre-existing medical conditions.
Be familiar with your destinations. safetravel.govt.nz is a good site for New Zealand travellers and is updated regularly. It carries information on areas of political unrest.
Lastly, take steps to avoid exposure to crime. In many countries, we look and dress differently. Try not to attract unwanted attention, and avoid areas or times of night that may be dangerous.