Most people taking a gap year will spend some time travelling outside the UK. This can be exciting and fun and will provide you with a wide variety of experiences that will give you a different view of the world, its climate, its peoples and their customs. But travelling can suddenly cease to be fun if you become ill. This page suggests the steps you can take before you go to reduce the chances of becoming ill on your travels.
Research. Start early. Some immunisation programmes require three months before they are fully effective. When you know which countries do you plan to visit, find out diseases occur in those countries and then find out what you can do to prevent them affecting you. Your gap year provider should provide you with up to date advice as to what you will require when you are on your placement or project but it is always helpful to obtain a second opinion and this will certainly be necessary if you are travelling independently either before or afterwards. You can consult your GP, a specialist travel health clinic, a specialist website (see list) or consult one of many books written on the subject.
Jabs. Get all your jabs done well in advance of your departure date. Ideally this should be three months in advance. If you need yellow fever make sure you obtain a signed, stamped certificate. Keep the certificate with your passport and other personal documents so that you have it to hand if the immigration officer asks for it.
Malaria. If you are going to an area where there is malaria you will need specialist advice on whether you need to take antimalarias and if you do then what to take, when to start and how to remember them. There is a range of antimalarias available so do take professional advice as to which one will be best for you.
Insect Bites. Malaria is not the only disease that you can contract from insect bites. Tick bites cause Lyme disease and tick borne encephalyits while sand flies cause leichmaniasis.† There are several others. The National Travel Health Centre and Network (NaTHNaC) offers some very useful advice on how best to protect yourself from insect bites.
Medical Insurance. This has been covered in more detail in an earlier page. It is really essential. Take it out before you depart. Make sure it covers all the places you intend to visit and all the activities you might wish to pursue. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, e.g. asthma, tell the insurance company and make sure the policy covers anything that might occur as a result.
Doctors and Dentists. If you have some serious health worries then visit either your GP or a travel health specialist before you travel. Even if you think you have perfect teeth have a dental check at least two weeks before you travel, so that remedial action can be taken before you depart. There is nothing worse than having raging toothache when the nearest dentist is days away.
Personal Medicines. Give this careful thought. Take enough of any medication you use quite often such as an asthma spray. Take enough of the pills and potions you think you might need if you are prone to headaches, have a recurring itch or an allergy. Remember also the semi-medical items such as the pill, contact lens solution, tampons and sun cream.
Know your blood group. It is worth knowing you blood group in case you or one of your chums needs a blood transfusion. It will save time and could save a life. Your GP may not have it on your records and will probably charge you for finding out. When you know it, write it down in several places where it can be found just in case its you who need the transfusion.
Health Supplies. Consider buying a First Aid/Health Kit and do buy a mosquito net if you are going to an area where malaria is prevalent or midges are a major feature.
Jabs. Some jabs are free and others can be quite expensive so do your research and make sure you are up to date on all those that are free and at the very least find the money for the others that your GP or travel health clinic advise you are important.
The Free Jabs. In the UK you usually get the following jabs free from your GP or practice nurse, but it is not guaranteed and practices differ: Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Diptheria/Tetanus, Polio. Some practices may offer other jabs for free or at a reduced price but treat this as a bonus.
The really important jabs. Have the following or check you are in date for them: Hepatitis A, Diptheria/Tetanus and Typhoid. (Note: They are all on the free list above so no excuses!)
Other Jabs. Whether you need more jabs or not will depend entirely on where you plan to visit. The chances are that you will and the best information will come from having a one-to one discussion with your GP or a visit to a specialist travel clinic.
Health supplies to take with you
Consider taking one or more of the following depending on where you are travelling and what you plan to do:
Simple syringe and needle kit.
First aid kit.
AIDS and Hepatitis B Protection Kit.
The following might also be useful
Water Purification kit-to debug the water and neutralising tablets to improve the taste.
Insect repellent, preferably DEET-based (at least 50% concentrate)
Sun cream - high factor.
Antibacterial hand cleaning gel to kill germs without needing water (soap and hot water are fine otherwise)
If going to a Malarious Area, you will need
A permethrin-impregnated mosquito net.
Insect repellent, preferably DEET based (at least 50%concentrate).
Pills to prevent malaria, also known as prophylactics or antimalarials. You will need specialist advice as to which to take.
Malaria standby kit for treating malaria should you contract it. You will need specialist advice as to which type to take.
Source: Travel Health in Your Pocket by Dr Ted Lankester of Interhealth (www.interhealth.org)
https://www.gov.uk/browse/abroad/travel-abroad This is the Foreign Office travel website
www.nathnac.org/travel/index.htm The National Travel Health Network and Clinics.
www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk This is the NHS website giving information on travel health issues for each country of the world.
www.travelhealth.co.uk This site contains much useful advice.
www.iamat.org Names and addresses of English-speaking doctors and clinics all over the world.