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Dr Duncan

Travelling to South East Asia

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For many West Australians of European descent, Christmas celebrations consist of lashings of Ho Ho Ho and fat men with white beards “dashing through the snow”. It’s about sitting down at midday, when it’s about 30C outside, to a Christmas day lunch of roast turkey, spuds and brussel sprouts followed by steamed plum pudding and brandy butter – it’s enough to make you want to leave the country! Which is what an increasing number of people are doing: they’re forgoing the “delights” of a traditional, winter-styled, European Christmas and heading north to holiday in SE Asia, and who could blame them.

The Asian culture and cuisine has so much to teach and entice us with, and the people there are friendly and welcoming: plus the strength of the Aussie dollar is makes overseas travel a more cost effective holiday than staying in some of our own resorts on the East coast!
However, travel to another country also means certain differences in hygiene and health care that can prove a threat to the unsuspecting tourist. But by using common sense and taking sensible precautions, a holiday in SE Asia can be the highlight of your year.

What are the risks and what should I do to prepare?

The most dangerous things that you will meet are also the most common and least suspected:
- Motor vehicles kill more tourists than diseases.
- Dogs, cats, chickens, birds and insects are the hosts for some of the diseases that can kill or make you very sick: rabies, Malaria, Dengue Fever, bird flu.

Most people are aware of getting “Gastro” when travelling overseas and take the appropriate precautions, but they rarely see hiring a scooter or car as life-threatening event: but they are and they can be! And our kids love to pat dogs and hug cats, and yet in certain countries where Rabies is still very common, a scratch or a bite from one of these strays could lead to a terrible death or serious illness. So, whilst you’re slapping on the sun block and slipping on their hats, PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN by warning them of the possible dangers from animals and birds as well!

Preparing for the holiday 

This should start several weeks before you cash in your boarding passes at the airport. Vaccinations against diseases are the best form of protection that we have, and each individual should discuss with their Doctor what they need in the form of boosters and specific vaccines to protect them from some very serious diseases in the country they intend to visit. This list should include:
- measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine,
- diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine,
- poliovirus vaccine
- Hepatitis A & B
- Typhoid
 .. and may include Rabies vaccine and Japanese encephalitis vaccine depending on where the traveller is heading to.
These vaccine schedules need to be started several weeks prior to the start of the holiday so please don’t leave it to the last minute – it’s your life you may be putting at risk.

Malaria 

One of the most ancient of diseases and one which is still defying our attempts to control it with medications. It is spread by mosquitos and the illness can vary from the mild to the deadly form, but unfortunately the mozzies do not come with warning labels, so every mosquito has to be considered deadly!
Firstly: reduce the chances of getting bitten by avoiding being outside at dawn and dusk when the mozzies swarm. Make sure your sleeping quarters are protected by effective flywire and if not, then sleep under a mosquito net. Wear long sleeved shirts and long trousers and liberally use mosquito repellent when going outside. Don’t forget to spray your bedroom with sprays that kill flying insects too, because this is where they love to bite and bother us – when we’re asleep!
There are effective medications that should be taken prior to leaving for your holiday, but you need to discuss with your treating Doctor which is the most suitable medication for you. All of them have the potential for side effects and you need to choose which is best for you. Also resistance to medications does occur and is not limited to political borders, so even within one country different forms of anti-malarials may be required for different regions.

The vast majority of holidaymakers go overseas and have a wonderful time and the worst thing that happens is that they get sunburnt and get a hangover. Alcohol, whilst being a useful “social lubricant” in small doses, can cause just as much heartache on holiday as it can do at home: motor vehicle accidents, drowning and violence. It can also leave a life long reminder in the form of hepatitis associated with holiday tattoos and unprotected sex.

Please respect the customs and laws of the country you visit – remember you are a guest – and you will have a wonderful time.
Here’s a link to the Centre for Disease Control in America with “Travellers Health Kit” suggestions: Bon Voyage!

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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