No matter the circumstances or destinations, you’re exposed to health risks when travelling overseas. Therefore, it’s important to know about the health and safety concerns on your trip and even on your return. If you are contemplating whether to get travel insurance, learning about the risks will make your decision easier. Read on to get information about health risks for travellers and preventive measures, as well as valuable tips when planning your trip to Australia or any other country.  

Risks associated with animals

In most countries around the world, contact with animals is a common risk. Some birds can carry the avian influenza virus. Other animals carry rabies. Depending on the countries you’re travelling in, insects can potentially transmit all kinds of diseases. For example, mosquitoes and ticks sometimes carry viruses such as Dengue, Zika, Chikungunya, or Malaria. Ask a doctor about the symptoms in order to detect them as quickly as possible and to react accordingly. Some countries, such as Australia, are inhabited by dangerous animals, such as crocodiles, jellyfish, and certain snake and spider species.

health risks for travellers

Sunburn and heat

Prolonged overexposure to heat, dehydration, and excessive stress in hot weather can quickly become a problem during a trip. Common medical conditions are heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and cramps. The symptoms of severe sunburn (beyond redness of skin) and heat stroke are quite similar. They include dizziness, fainting, nausea, long headaches, and fast heartbeat, to name a few. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, rest in a cool place and drink plenty of water. If the symptoms persist, don’t take it lightly! Consult a doctor or call a local emergency number.

Beware that the reflection of UV rays by snow, water, metal or concrete increases the risk of sunburn and heat stroke. Protect yourself from the sun even if the sky is overcast, whether you are at the beach or skiing. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and most importantly sunscreen.

health risks for travellers

Contaminated food and water

Generally, contaminated food or water can carry bacteria that cause severe diseases. Be aware of what you eat and drink to avoid getting sick. In places such as South East Asia, it’s safest to buy bottled drinks. Coffee and tea are usually okay to drink, as the water is boiled. The water may look clean, but it might be polluted. Even when having a shower, you can get sick if you inadvertently ingest water.

Be vigilant on hygiene and always wash your hands before eating or preparing food.

health risks for travellers

How to minimise these risks?

Be well prepared before leaving your home country

A few precautionary measures can really make a difference and are sometimes mandatory (vaccines). Remember to make appointments for routine health checks with your doctor, dentist etc. And find out what the health risks in your destinations are and what you can do to prevent them. It’s best to speak to health professionals in international medical centres directly.

It is imperative to have your vaccines up-to-date well before your departure (a few weeks before). Depending on the countries you’re going to visit, you may need to get additional vaccines (e.g. hepatitis, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis etc.) and even preventive treatments (e.g. malaria). These vaccines are available at medical centers specialising in international travel.
In some cases, you need to provide proof of vaccination. Remember to take a copy of your vaccination record and your international vaccination certificate with you, as well as a copy of your travel insurance cover.  

Pack everything you need during your trip to protect you at best. The minimum requirement is a first aid kit (dressings, disinfectant), but also insect repellents and sunscreen. Furthermore, if you are treated with prescribed drugs, make sure you’ve got that in writing (and translated) to justify the possession of these drugs. Keep in mind that your medications may not be available where you are going.

Updated on the 15/01/2020. Initially published on the 09/01/2019.

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After a long stay in Australia, we founded Black Bird, a company specialized in travel insurance. Our mission is to inform and help young travellers in their insurance choices (advice, tips, comparisons etc). If you have any particular questions, do not hesitate to contact us directly by email. Contact: RCS no. 833 461 403. Insurance intermediary registration number: 18000657 (ORIAS - Banking and Finance Intermediaries)