Animal bites to Zika virus: the A-Z of travelling well

group of friends eating

If you’re prepping for the holiday of a lifetime, a gap year abroad or just a quick Bali break, chances are you’ve covered the travel basics - passport, backpack and electronic devices. Right? Wrong! If you really want to enjoy your overseas holiday then you need to stay in good health. A few sensible precautions - before you depart and while on the road - should see you through.

We’ve pulled together a list of some common health risks for young travellers and what you can do to stay ahead of the game.

Traveller’s diarrhoea

Bali belly or Delhi belly - whatever you call it, where you go, traveller’s diarrhoea is the #1 travel health issue for young and old. Whether it’s bacterial (e.g. E. coli, Salmonella), viral (e.g. norovirus, rotavirus) or a parasitic infection (e.g. Giardia), you can guarantee most cases of diarrhoea are due to contaminated food or water.

Food spoilage and contamination can occur in both developing and developed countries - in local street markets and in the best restaurants. While vaccination is available to prevent some diseases e.g. hepatitis A and cholera, your best protection is to be vigilant and practice good hygiene.

How to avoid the tummy rumbles:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Always drink boiled, treated or bottled water and say no to ice in your drinks.
  • Choose cooked instead of raw food.
  • Avoid leafy greens unless you’re sure they’ve been washed in clean water.
  • Only eat fruit if you’ve peeled it yourself.

Skin problems

While they sound superficial, skin rashes, itches and eruptions can be uncomfortable and seriously slow you down - think blisters and severe sunburn. And skin symptoms can also be a sign of something more serious, such as the skin rash associated with dengue fever. Be aware too that some conditions don’t become obvious until you’re safely back home. There are any number of parasitic infections, such as hookworm, that you can bring home from the tropics. Take any persistent or annoying skin conditions to the doctor, particularly if you’ve been travelling in exotic locations.

How to stay spot and itch free:

  • Prevention is the best medicine at home and abroad. You can protect your skin from the sun, insect bites, contact dermatitis and minor abrasions by covering up with long sleeves and long pants and using products such as sunscreen and insect repellants.
  • Bed nets are also recommended in tropical climates if you’re not sleeping in screened or air-conditioned hotel rooms.
  • Travel with a small first-aid kit including antiseptics and bandages so you can cover any cuts and abrasions and prevent secondary infections.

*A word about Zika virus: This high profile virus transmitted by mosquitos can also present as a skin rash. It’s only of real concern to pregnant women. The best advice if travelling in affected countries is to cover up with long sleeved clothing, use plenty of insect repellant and to use bed nets at night.

Respiratory infections

Coughs, colds and more serious infections such as influenza can find you anywhere and especially if you are travelling in groups, in confined spaces such as planes, and through busy hubs such as international airports and crowded markets. You can distinguish a common cold from ‘flu by watching for additional symptoms such as fever and aching muscles or joints.

How to beat the lurghy

  • Protect yourself as best you can by having a ‘flu vaccination at least a few weeks before you leave home.
  • Wash your hands regularly, particularly when you’ve been out in public areas and always before eating. Keep a travel size hand sanitizer in your day bag.
  • Where possible, keep your distance from fellow travellers who are already sick.
  • If you’re unlucky enough to pick up a lurghy on your travels, schedule a couple of slow days, get lots of rest, increase fluids and take paracetamol if needed for headache or fever. If you’re not feeling better within three to five days, then follow up with a local doctor.


Travel adventures are typically associated with extra risk-taking behavior. So we’ll go bungee jumping or white-water rafting in another country when we might not have considered it at home. That’s all fine except when we don’t understand local risks or abandon safety precautions we would normally use at home. Cars, motor bikes and animal bites are all common causes of injuries abroad.

How to stay injury-free

  • Car and motor bike injuries are one of the most common reasons for bringing a dream holiday to a premature end. Don’t cut your holiday short by forgetting the basic road rules, not wearing a seatbelt or riding a motorbike without a helmet. And remember: don’t drive tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Animal bites and scratches are another common travel injury - especially for young Aussies travelling in Asia. The consequences can be dire in countries where rabies is endemic. We love dogs, but keep your distance overseas. And yes, the monkeys are cute too. Take photos, but don’t try to feed them.

Sexually transmitted diseases

Did we mention risk-taking? Yeah, yeah: What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Except when it comes home with you from holidays in the form of an STD. Studies have shown that people love to hook up on holidays - spurred on by the excitement of new places, new friends and alcohol. Casual sex substantially increases your risk of serious infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, genital herpes, syphilis and HIV.

How to avoid any unwanted nasties:

  • Pretty simple advice here: pack protection and make sure you use it.

For more advice about travel health, talk to your doctor before you leave or check out websites such as http://smartraveller.gov.au/guide/all-travellers/health/Pages/default.aspx or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/.

Feb 26, 2019 | Found in: health,
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