Health issues when travelling abroad
More and more Irish citizens are travelling internationally for professional, recreational, social and humanitarian reasons. Given we are travelling greater distances and to a wide variety of countries, sometimes this can expose our health to risks in often unfamiliar environments. Hopefully, your trip abroad will be free of any health scares, but you need to be prepared to meet every eventuality.
Most of the health risks associated with travel, can be minimized by suitable precautions taken before, during and after your trip. You should ensure that you have taken every possible precaution and, if the worst comes to the worst, you should be confident that you have organised the necessary insurance to pay for the medical care you require.
Some key factors in determining risks to your health when travelling abroad include:
- destination you are visiting
- duration of your visit
- purpose of visit
- standards of accommodation
- food hygiene, and
- behaviour of the traveller
Medical advice before you travel
If you are intending to visit somewhere in a developing country, you should consult with your family doctor (GP) or a travel medicine clinic before the journey. This consultation should preferably take place about 8 weeks before the journey, particularly if vaccination(s) may be required. Your family doctor or clinic can advise you on this.
Similarly, if you have a pre-existing medical condition that requires ongoing care, or are among an 'at risk' group it is advisable to seek medical advice in advance of your journey.
If you will be travelling abroad for an extended period, you should consider consulting your doctor to discuss known or possible health risks. If you take medication on a regular basis you should ask your doctor to prescribe an amount adequate for your visit and bring it with you. It is also advisable to bring a letter from your doctor outlining your medical condition and the type of medication you require.
Vaccinations and immunisations
Vaccinations and immunisations are required in order to travel to certain countries around the world. They should be considered if you are travelling to areas outside of Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Your family doctor (GP) or travel medicine clinic can advise on your options.
Travelling within the EU/EEA
If you are a EU/EEA citizen and your trip is to a destination within the EEA (the 28 EU member states, Norway Iceland, Liechtenstein) or Switzerland, you are strongly advised to bring along your European Health Insurance Card. This Card will cover the cost associated with necessary medical treatment (if required) while you are visiting another member state.
Travelling outside the EU/EEA
If you will be travelling outside the EU/EEA, you are strongly advised to seek specific holiday or health insurance before you travel. Insurance rates in Ireland can vary significantly, so shop around for the best value before your trip.
Ireland and Australia have a reciprocal health agreement. This means that Irish visitors to Australia will receive emergency services and assistance towards the cost of prescribed drugs and medicines on the same basis as persons ordinarily resident in Australia.
Depending on what part of the world you are in, insects such as mosquitoes, ticks and sandflies can spread infections such as malaria and yellow fever. The HSE website provides information on how to prevent insect bites.
The HSE has information on preventing illness and infection while abroad.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre provides advice for travellers on how to avoid illness on its website.
The World Health Organization has provided a very useful site with lots of information and advice regarding health and international travel.
A checklist for travellers
A little time spent checking out the following information before your trip will also ensure you are well prepared.
- What local conditions do I need to be aware of?
- Do I need vaccines to prevent illness or health risks?
- Which authorities do I contact in the event of an accident or incident?
- Do I need any additional medical prescriptions before I travel?
- What blood group am I?
- Do I need a dental/optical/medical check-up before I travel?
Your family doctor (GP) or tropical medical bureau can answer some of the above questions. It's also sensible (depending on your destination) to check with your dentist/optician whether you may need a check-up before you travel.
Your travel agent/tour operator/trip organiser should be able to provide information on the local weather, accommodation, health facilities and other conditions before your journey. Travel guidebooks are also a good source of information. You can also get in touch with the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the country you will be visiting for more information.