All your bags are packed, itinerary sorted and you’re ready to travel. But upon arrival at your destination, a fever begins to kick in – putting a damper to all your plans.
Getting sick can be a nightmare, even more so when you are on holiday in a foreign land. In fact, a recent survey by travel insurance site InsureMyTrip reveals that cruise travellers are more concerned about illness affecting a trip than bad weather or terrorism.
Maladies are not something we are in control of, though. So what do you do when you fall sick while travelling?
Physician Dr Mohammad Shazli Abdul Rahman says travellers can always resort to self-medication first.
“If the supply of medication is available, try to self-medicate with the appropriate drugs paired with enough water and rest,” he says, adding that getting a companion to monitor your condition is a good idea.
However, he advises travellers to seek assistance from medical professionals if their symptoms worsen or don’t improve within 24 hours.
Pharmaceutical support during travel is essential and can differ from person to person as well as destination.
“Packing important and authorised medications could be a life-saving move if the situation requires it,” Dr Mohammad Shazli says. Some useful medicines to pack are: Anti-diarrheal medication, antihistamine for flu and itch, cough suppressant, oral rehydration salts (ORS) and medicine for pain or fever.
“These medications are mainly available over-the-counter or prescribed,” Dr Mohammad Shazli says.
If you’re worried about being held back at customs, do remember that prescribed medications require a letter or prescription slip from your doctor.
“If, during a customs or security check, you are questioned about the drugs or liquid medications, show your doctor’s official letter or prescription for support.
“It is also best to discuss with your doctor if the medicine is necessary for your specific healthcare needs at your destination,” he advises.
According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention in the United States (which works with the Malaysian Government on infectious disease issues), it is a good idea to check the customs and import restrictions of the place you are travelling to.
The matter of customs restriction aside, Dr Mohammad Shazli says research is key.
“If the destination can trigger undesirable effects from your underlying illness, take precautions and get advise from your doctor. Always eat and drink from a clean restaurant or stall,” he says.
It’s also important to take medications when the occasion necessitates it, Dr Mohammad Shazli cautions.
“Stop when the symptoms have resolved, but do complete courses of antibiotics,” he adds.
Of course, travellers can always try to be at optimum health conditions in the weeks leading up to a journey. In fact, a myriad of things can be done, says Dr Mohammad Shazli.
“Ensure adequate hydration prior to travelling with enough water intake. You may also consume vitamins or supplements such as vitamin C, multivitamins, B complex and probiotics to fortify the immune system and prevent any unwanted infections.
“Keep yourself away from those with infections. Have a good and balanced diet to keep the digestive track healthy. Slow down on alcohol consumption. Cut down or stop smoking. Get enough sleep and rest. And of course, exercise,” he advises.
The other way to maintain a healthy travel lifestyle when heading abroad is to get vaccinated from diseases.
“Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, typhoid fever, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, meningococcal, pneumococcal and travellers’ diarrhoea are some of the recommendations.
“But some could be region specific, such as meningococcal for travel to the Middle East,” Dr Mohammad Shazli says, adding that it’s best to consult a physician on more details about suitable vaccines.
He also recommends that travellers purchase travel insurance that covers illnesses and accidents, just in case. Apart from that, friends and families should be informed of your trip.
“Try to pace your travel. Make sure you have intervals to rest or even exercise. A non-hectic schedule would be beneficial, so plan early. Remember, travelling should be fun, not stressful,” he concludes.
Travel medication checklist
Here are some of the medicines you need to prepare in your travel medication bag, as advised by Dr Mohammad Shazli:
• Anti diarrhoea medication (eg: bismuth subsalicylate and loperamide)
• Antihistamine for flu and itch
• Cough suppressant/expectorant
• Medicine for pain or fever (eg: acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen)
• Cough drops or lozenges
• Antifungal and antibacterial ointments or creams
• Anti itch cream (eg: 1% hydrocortisone cream)
• Lubricating eye drops (eg: artificial tears)
• Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)
• Medicine to prevent altitude/motion sickness