By Mak Wen Yao
To have the perfect holiday, patients need to be reminded to be healthy and safe.
The end of the year marks a season of celebration, togetherness and, of course, travelling over the holidays. That being said, it becomes the season where healthcare professionals are most consulted for travel advice.
The last thing on every traveler’s mind is to fall sick, or worse, let their chronic illnesses get in their way of having a wonderful time. However, the prospect of disease and injury is real. In fact, some studies suggest that hospital admissions soar during this period.
To better prepare travelers for holiday, here are a list of useful tips and resources to aid healthcare professionals in providing health advice to them.
Vulnerable populations such as the elderly and the very young should be encouraged to get vaccinations.
Influenza has been prominently striking every continent this year, yet is the most addressable risk to avoid spoiling the perfect holiday. There are signs of the influenza season beginning early in popular tourist destinations this year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is an increasing number of influenza cases in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere – especially in the US and Canada. Similarly, various European countries have reported a growing number of cases.
Popular holiday destinations are particularly suitable for viruses to spread. Vulnerable populations such as the elderly and the very young are ideal hosts for infections and should be encouraged to get vaccinations whenever possible. It is prudent to advise travelers to have their vaccinations a couple of weeks earlier before their holiday as it takes time for the body to generate the needed antibodies for sufficient protection.
Influenza may top the news headline, but healthcare professionals should not forget about a whole host of other infectious diseases that may turn a well-planned holiday into an emergency visit to the hospital. Diseases that are not prevalent in our country may still be a risk when holiday seekers travel to other places, especially remote or exotic destinations. It is also sensible to keep travelers informed of any disease outbreaks in the countries they wish to visit when such information is available.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a comprehensive health information and vaccination recommendations, which is an extremely helpful reference to clinicians, pharmacists and travelers alike. Otherwise, healthcare professionals can also refer to the British National Formulary (BNF), which also provide similar recommendations.
There is currently no centralized database to determine what medicine is available in which country, and the methods to obtain them.
It is safe to assume that many travelers require chronic medications to help control their illnesses. A good proportion of patients should bring along their routine prescription medicine – but, accidents may still happen. Be it a lost suitcase or misplaced medicine, getting a prescription medicine filled in a foreign country can be a challenge. Unfortunately, there is no centralized database that reveals what medicine is available in which country, as well as the methods in obtaining them.
On the other hand, healthcare professionals should advise travelers to bring “enough” medicine for personal use. However, the definition of “enough” may be subjected to local regulatory interpretation. The recent case of Laura Plummer, a British woman who was sentenced to three-year jail in Egypt for bringing in 290 tramadol tablets for her husband with back pain, succinctly underlines the importance for travelers to understand the condition and context under which a prescription medicine can be brought along.
A trip to the clinic for a little nip and tuck could be fatal if the credentials are not cross-checked.
Many holiday seekers like to bring back a little souvenir from exotic places they have visited. And what is better than getting a nice tat to commemorate those lovely memories? The public attitude towards body art has changed dramatically over the years – with tattoos becoming widely acceptable.
However, tattoo-related infections do happen especially when artists fail to practice sterile techniques. In fact, a Mycobacterium outbreak in the US five years ago was traced back to contaminated inks that caused numerous nontuberculous mycobacterial infections across New York, Washington, Iowa and Colorado.
Similarly, travelers who plan to have an extra trip to the aesthetic clinic for a little nip and tuck must be urged to check the credentials of the clinic to ensure that the qualifications of the surgeons or clinics are true.
The age-old wisdom of washing our hands frequently and thoroughly should be constantly reinforced, but unfortunately, the simplest rule is also the easiest to forget. It is highly important to remind travelers to maintain appropriate personal hygiene as many diseases are transmitted through contaminated food and water.
Travelers who seek to spend their holiday in tropical countries should also be advised to avoid mosquito bites, as these deadly insects are a known vector for dengue, malaria and Zika infection.