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Travel safely: vaccinations and travel first-aid kit

Parasites and other exotic pathogens can spoil a holiday, but this can often be prevented if you’re prepared and take the necessary precautions. What do you need in your first-aid kit, which vaccinations are mandatory, and what helps against diarrhoea?

Text: Julie Freudiger; photo: Lisheng Chang / Unsplash

Nausea, diarrhoea, fever, aches and pains: Anyone travelling to far-flung countries, particularly the tropics, subtropics or developing countries, can get up close and personal with any number of pathogens. As well as taking a few precautions and a well-equipped first-aid kit, you should also make sure you get enough sleep and take breaks, because fatigue and exhaustion weaken the body’s natural defences – and a trip to a different climate zone and the many new impressions are exhausting.

Preventing diarrhoea

In Asia, Africa and South and Central America, there’s a high risk that you’ll suffer from diarrhoea while travelling. It can be caused by unfamiliar food, stress due to the change in climate and time zone, and poor hygiene standards. Pathogens are mostly absorbed through food and dirty drinking water. If you suffer severe diarrhoea over a period of several days, you should consult a doctor or Medgate. A stomach bug can have long-term consequences, so it’s worth taking a few precautions:

  • No raw food: cook or peel food. Meat and fish should be cooked thoroughly.
  • Drink only bottled water. Or boil the water first or filter it using a special water filter.
  • Clean your teeth using bottled water.
  • Don’t use ice cubes, unless they are industrially produced with drinking water.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Be wary of food sold locally on snack stands, because hygiene standards are often inadequate.

Which vaccinations do you need?

Depending on where you’re going and what you plan to do there, certain vaccinations are recommended, such as typhoid, hepatitis A and B or rabies. An up-to-date vaccination against yellow fever is even compulsory to be allowed to enter some countries. An international vaccination booklet, issued by your doctor, is also required to prove your vaccination protection. If you’re planning a trip to distant countries, make an early appointment with your family doctor or tropical medicine doctor for advice.

Basic insurance pays for those vaccinations that are generally recommended in Switzerland, for example against diphtheria. Some vaccinations are covered by supplementary insurance, in accordance with the general terms of insurance at the time the insurance is taken out. Sanitas customers can use the Cover Check in the Sanitas customer portal to see which vaccinations are covered by their insurance. They can also create a digital vaccination booklet in the customer portal to have an overview of their vaccination status at all times.

Malaria prophylaxis and mosquito protection

There’s no vaccination against malaria. If you travel to a high-risk malaria area, you may need to take antimalarial tablets before you leave. Depending on the destination, however, a malaria prophylaxis may also be sufficient, which can be taken along in case of emergency. Whatever the case, you really have to visit your family doctor or tropical medicine specialist before travelling to malaria risk areas.

Not getting bitten by mosquitoes in the first place is the most important protection against malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Take plenty of mosquito repellent with you, plus a spray for your clothes. It’s also advisable to wear trousers and long-sleeved t-shirts and to hang a mosquito net over your bed.

What do you need in a travel first-aid kit?

You should always take a travel first-aid kit when you go on holiday. You don’t want to have to waste time on holiday looking for a pharmacy. What’s more, if you don’t speak the language it can be hard to get the right medicine, or they may not have it in stock.

What you need to pack in your first-aid kit depends on your destination. For a city trip to Europe you only need plasters, bandages, disinfectant and pain medication. However, if you’re travelling further afield, you need to be better equipped. For example, you’ll need medication against diarrhoea, vomiting and travel sickness and antibiotics for emergencies (always consult a doctor before taking them). A thermometer in a robust case, tweezers and a small pair of scissors can also come in very handy. If you’re travelling to very remote areas you may even need sterile materials such as syringes, cannulas and gloves. You’ll find a checklist for travel first-aid kits here. Urgently needed medication should be divided between your hand and hold luggage.