May 31, 2009
Fit for a holiday
Don't want to fall sick on that well-earned vacation? Take necessary precautions, doctors say
By Yusuf Abdol Hamid
You have booked your flights and planned a vacation with your family during the June school holidays.
If you are determined not to let the worldwide spread of the H1N1 flu virus derail your plans, you should at least take some precautions so that your travel is as hiccup-free as possible.
Associate professor Helen Oh, senior consultant at Changi General Hospital's Medical Centre for International Travellers, recommends vaccination before travelling.
She says: 'Vaccinations are important as they protect people against disease.'
Family physician Roy Chio puts it more strongly: 'Travelling without getting vaccinated first is to take unacceptable risks.'
Recommended vaccinations for travellers vary according to region and range from $10 to more than $100 (see box).
For parents travelling with their children, he advises that they consult their little ones' doctor regarding vaccinations.
He says 'it is important to know which of your children's vaccinations are up to date', as some are only effective for periods of a few months to a few years.
Aside from diseases, a travel medical kit is also essential for a host of ailments which may be minor but will almost certainly ruin a holiday.
Dr Chio of Famicare Bedok Clinic has a comprehensive list of must-bring items. It includes:
Travel sickness pills, which prevent attacks of nausea when you are on a plane, on a winding road or in a boat. These stabilise the body's balance mechanism.
Cough and cold medication, preferably in pill form to avoid spillage or security complications at the airport.
Anti-diarrhoea medication, such as oral rehydration salts, charcoal pills and, most importantly, anti-vomiting pills. Dr Chio explains: 'If you can't control your vomiting, then you won't be able to keep your medication down long enough for it to take effect.'
Jet lag pills, with the most natural being melatonin in capsule form. These are best taken closer to normal sleeping time at the destination to help induce sleep.
Fever- and pain-control tablets. Dr Chio discourages against taking antibiotics on a holiday as misuse of it may result in kidney dysfunction.
Plasters, antiseptic wipes and bandages. Exposed wounds may get infected, especially if in a dirty area or when surfing in the sea.
Disposable sterile needles. These are especially important when travelling to countries where healthcare standards may be poor. Dr Chio says in the event of an emergency which requires a jab, 'you don't want to share needles with someone else because there is a very high risk of getting infected by blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B or Aids'.
Once abroad, it is best to be wary of the local water supply as drinking dirty water is one of the easiest ways to fall sick or contract hepatitis A.
'In developing countries, drink only bottled mineral water and make sure the cap is sealed properly,' says Dr. Chio.
Vaccinate yourself before travelling:
Meningococcal meningitis ($70): Symptoms include severe headaches and fever and, if unchecked, may lead to death within two days. It is spread by close contact with a carrier.
Tetanus ($10-$15): Caused by bacteria entering dirty wounds and producing tetanus toxins in the body. Those affected may experience rigid convulsions leading to death.
Hepatitis A ($90): Viral infection of the liver but unlikely to be fatal. It can be caused by food that is not well cooked, especially seafood.
Hepatitis B ($30-40): Viral infection of the liver, which is potentially lethal. The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person but not through casual contact.
Typhoid or typhoid fever ($28): Causes high fever and diarrhoea with a rash of flat, rose-coloured spots sometimes appearing on the body. Spread through contaminated food and water.
Oral medications to pack for the following:
Hay fever ($3-$5): Its proper name is allergic rhinitis and it is caused by pollen and occurs mostly during summer. It especially affects people who are allergic to dust and flower pollen. Antihistamines should be an effective treatment.
Malaria ($88 for 12 tablets): Causes high fever and is potentially fatal. It is spread by mosquitos carrying a specific type of bacteria. There is no vaccination for it but oral drugs can be taken to reduce the likelihood of contracting it.
Destinations where you may contract these diseases:
North America: No vaccinations are required by the US communicable disease centre but hay fever may be a problem in June.
South America, Africa: Meningococcal meningitis, malaria, hepatitis A
India and China: Hepatitis A and typhoid
Middle East: Meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis A
South-east Asia: Hepatitis A
Elsewhere: Doctors advise that vaccinations for hepatitis B and tetanus be taken as they may be contracted anywhere in the world.
For more travel health information, call:
1. Medical Centre for International Travellers (Changi General Hospital) on 6850-3685/6850-3333
2. Travellers' Health & Vaccination Clinic (Tan Tock Seng Hospital) on 6357-2222