Fit to travel

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Post by Dr Louise Owen07 Mar 2013

Pedro from Queensland writes:
I’m thinking of going on a five-week holiday. First stop Bali, followed by Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, then back home. Do you have any special advice about avoiding overseas bugs? Should I get all the relevant vaccinations? What else should I do to stay well?

Dr Louise replies:
First and foremost, Pedro, it is important that you visit your doctor well in advance to discuss your general health and to plan what to do before visiting those specific destinations.

Some vaccinations need to commence a few months before your trip to be effective.

Also, the type of travel you are doing, the style of accommodation and whether it is rural or urban will influence which vaccinations are recommended.

You can do some research yourself by entering each of your destinations in the travel health planner at

There are some other simple things you can do to avoid getting sick. Hand washing is important (and not even just while you’re away), as this simple act reduces the spread of common respiratory and tummy bugs. Carry a bottle of antibacterial hand sanitiser with you and use it often.

Water precautions are well known. Some countries recommend that you avoid drinking the local water, so don’t forget this when you’re brushing your teeth (use bottled water) or ordering a drink (no ice, thanks).

Carry a tropical-strength insect repellant. Choose one that contains diethyltoluamide (DEET) and one that can be sprayed on both clothing and skin. Malaria and other infections are transmitted by night-biting mosquitoes. The risk is usually lower in towns and cities and higher in country areas, so discuss with your doctor as some places call for malarial prophylaxis.

Pack a personal first-aid kit. Include paracetamol (or another pain killer), anti-inflammatory medication (check for allergies or contraindications), a nasal spray (in case of a cold), some basic dressings, anti-diarrhoea tablets and perhaps some specific antibiotics for diarrhoea (you’ll need a prescription for this).

Remember to pack more than enough of your HIV and other regular medications. Ask your doctor to list them in a letter, along with any complex medical issues you may have in case you need medical help while you’re away.

Do you need an STI check-up before you go? Remember that an untreated STI can increase your risk of acquiring another STI or transmitting HIV, so take a supply of condoms and lube so you are always prepared. Some STIs are more common overseas than in Australia, so it’s worth mentioning that you have been overseas when having your return STI check-up.

Apart from this: use your commonsense; chat to others who have travelled to the places you plan to go, and have a great time.