Travel health disasters and how to avoid them


When you jet off on a well-deserved holiday, you no doubt want to forget about your worries and relax and unwind. However, there are certain practical issues that you simply can’t afford to ignore, and your health is one of them. If you’re not careful, your blissful break away from home could quickly turn into a nightmare. Fortunately, help is at hand. This brief guide talks you through some possible travel health disasters, and offers top tips on how to avoid them.


If you’re travelling to a tropical or subtropical destination, you’ll need to be aware of the risk of malaria. Each year, around 1,750 people return to the UK with this serious and sometimes fatal disease, which is spread by night-biting female mosquitoes that carry plasmodium parasites. The parasites enter the bloodstream and, depending on the type, they may then multiply and do potentially serious harm.  Broadly speaking, the ill-effects can include headaches, chills, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhoea and night sweats. In the most serious cases, this can progress to anaemia, low blood sugar, abnormal liver function, kidney failure, convulsions, difficulty breathing, confusion, severe dehydration and a range of other severe symptoms.

To minimise the risk of contracting malaria, it’s important to seek advice from a travel health expert before you set off. You might need to take antimalarial tablets, and bear in mind that the courses of some of these medicines start before you set off on holiday. It’s also important to try to avoid being bitten while you’re away, especially after sunset. To do this, cover up in loose clothing and use repellents. You might also benefit from sleeping under a mosquito net impregnated with insecticide.

Infectious diseases

Of course, malaria isn’t the only disease to watch out for. Depending on where you’re going, you might also be at risk of dengue, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies, meningitis, yellow fever and travellers’ diarrhoea. You’ll need to do your research before you set off and speak to a doctor to see if you require any vaccinations or medicines. You should look into this at least four to six weeks before you’re due to jet off.

Also, bear in mind that many infectious diseases are spread through food and water, so it’s wise to follow thorough hygiene guidelines. For example, don’t drink tap water or use it to brush your teeth in areas where there’s poor sanitation. Also, don’t put ice in drinks and steer clear of foods like salads, uncooked fruits and anything that has been kept at room temperature in warm environments.


Another health risk is sunburn. Severe cases may lead to painful blisters, but even mild sunburn can be highly damaging because it increases your risk of skin cancer later in life. To ensure you don’t get burned, stay out of the sun when it’s at its strongest, which is between 11am and 3pm, and apply plenty of sunscreen at least every two hours when you’re out, even if it’s overcast. When selecting a cream, go for one that has a high sun protection factor.

By following advice like this, you should be able to enjoy your holidays without experiencing any health disasters.


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