Vaccinations and travelling health

Don't let illness spoil your holiday, take a few precautions. Here's your guide to a healthy trip and getting your jabs.


Doesn't hurt as much as rabies

Getting ready to travel

Make sure you’re up to date with your regular health and dental checks before you go. If you’re on any medication remember to consult your doctor (GP), and take a bit more away with you than you need, in case you don’t get back into the UK on time. If you need needles for treatments such as diabetes or haemophilia, get your doctor to write you an official note explaining why you need them, so that customs officials don’t get suspicious.

What vaccinations will I need?

Leave at least eight weeks to get your vaccinations sorted as some of them take a while to work. There are a lot of different vaccinations, illnesses and tablets you need to consider depending on where you’re going. MASTA will guide you through every part of the vaccination process and help you work out what you need. These are the main ones to think about:

  • Typhoid: Recommended for anyone going to areas where standards of food and water hygiene are lower than in the UK. Avoid potentially contaminated food and water.
  • Hepatitis A: Provides protection for up to 10 years, useful if travelling to areas with poor food and water hygiene.
  • Diptheria: You may need a booster if you’re planning a long stay in a developing country. Recently there have been outbreaks in the former USSR.
  • Cholera: Bacterial infection that causes catastrophic diarrhoea and dehydration. Certificate needed for entry to some countries. Being careful about food and drink hygiene is more important than getting vaccinated in most cases.
  • Malaria: Parasitic infection passed on by mosquitoes in tropical and sub-tropical countries. Discuss what tablets you’ll need with a doctor or pharmacist. Avoid being bitten: wear long shirts and trousers after dusk, use insect repellents, sleep under nets.
  • Yellow fever: Found in parts of Africa and South America. You may need to produce a vaccination certificate if youre trying to get into some countries.
  • Meningiococcal meningitis: Protection recommended for visits to endemic areas, such as Sub-Saharan Africa in the dry season. Certificates necessary for entry into certain countries.
  • Tick-borne encephalitis: The ticks in question live in the long grass at the edge of forests in parts of mainland Europe. Vaccination is only needed if you will be spending a long period of time there, for example trekking and camping, or doing conservation work.
  • Japanese encephalitis: Mosquito-borne disease, seen in parts of India and South-East Asia. In addition to vaccination, avoid insect bites, as with malaria.
  • Hepatitis B: May be useful if you’re going to be staying in certain countries for a long period, and you’re involved in healthcare. Avoid sharing needles and unprotected sex.
  • Rabies: If you’re planning on being abroad for a while, and risk coming into contact with dogs, cats, or wild animals, think about being vaccinated. If you are bitten or licked by a suspected rabid animal, you must still seek immediate medical advice.

What medicines to pack

Wherever you are going remember to pack a small medical kit containing painkillers, insect repellent, sticking plasters, sun block, and antiseptic. You may also want to take travel sickness medication and water purification tablets. Women should think about taking remedies for thrush and cystitis if they’re going to hot countries.

If you’re going to remote areas, or countries where there is a lower standard of hygiene than the UK, you should buy a sealed emergency kit that contains clean needles for injections, sutures to close wounds, syringes, and sterile giving sets for drips.

Do I need travel insurance?

Umm, YES! Get yourself a European health service card (EHIC); it entitles you to basic free medical treatment in most European countries that have reciprocal agreements with the UK. This shouldn’t be a replacement for proper medical insurance, however, so get some good comprehensive travel insurance as well.

Your health when you’re out there

Think carefully about food and drink safety, avoid overdoing the drink or drugs and getting dehydrated, use common sense in the sun and make sure the safety standards on any action holidays or activities are up to scratch. Many good holiday guidebooks contain useful phone numbers or addresses for emergency doctors or clinics in the local area.

Sexual health

We Brits have a bit of a reputation for losing our usual reserve when we’re on holiday. Drink, drugs, warm weather, and skimpy clothing often finds us looking for some sexy fun with one or more new partners. This is fine, so long as you keep a bit of common sense about you.

Take plenty of good quality condoms with you (look for a kite-mark symbol on the packet) because they may not be so reliable or easily available at your destination. Use condoms every time you have sex – a huge proportion of STIs are picked up by Brits who have unprotected sex while abroad, and that includes a number of cases of HIV infections. Most good guidebooks will give you information about where to go if you need emergency contraception, or are worried about STIs.

Photo of vaccination by Shutterstock

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015