Updated: Sep 7, 2018
An informed traveller is a healthy traveller, advises Dr Rebecca Lau
Are you already counting down to your next holiday? Take some time to think about your travel plans – and we’re not talking about the packing. By being prepared you can reduce the chances of illness during your holiday.
Reduce your travel risk by visiting your doctor six to eight weeks before departure to:
- Review your current health
- Assess your destination risks: what travel vaccines may be suitable
- Review your vaccine status and test immunity levels if necessary
- Offer relevant medical advice for your specific destination
It is important you book your appointment six to eight weeks before your departure as some vaccines will take up to two weeks to take effect. Others may require a series of vaccines for maximal protection.
Hepatitis A: One of the few foodborne or waterborne diseases that can be prevented by vaccination. We recommend children receive their first dose at 12 months or older. Two weeks or more before departure is ideal, but getting the vaccine any time before travelling will provide some protection. A booster injection is required for extended protection.
Typhoid Fever: A foodborne or waterborne disease caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi. Areas of risk include East and Southeast Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Vaccines can be administered to children from two years of age and will provide protection for three years.
Japanese Encephalitis: This virus is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. It occurs throughout Southeast Asia, the Far East, the Western Pacific including the northern tip of Australia. Vaccination is available for children above two years old. There are different vaccination choices and series for different ages. Some versions require two doses one month apart, the last being one week before departure to achieve effect.
Yellow Fever: This is also a virus transmitted via mosquitoes. Recent endemic includes tropical areas of Africa and South America. Vaccination is recommended for all travellers aged nine months and above, travelling to at-risk areas, unless they are contraindicated for vaccination. Yellow Fever is the only disease specified in the International Health Regulations for which countries may require proof of vaccination from travellers as a condition of entry. A list can be found on the WHO website www.who.int/ith/2017-ith-annex1.pdf?ua=1
The vaccine is only available in two locations in Hong Kong run by the department of health. You should make your appointment six weeks prior to travelling.
Travel health centres contact numbers: Hong Kong Tel: 2961 8840 and Kowloon Tel: 2150 7235.
Malaria: A mosquito transmitted disease which can be life threatening. Large areas of Africa, South Asia and parts of Central and South America are considered areas of Malaria transmission. Anti-malaria tablets are available for children over 5kg in weight.
Measles: The Measles virus is highly contagious causing high fever and other respiratory symptoms such as cough, runny nose, red and watery eyes. Three to five days after symptoms begin, a rash breaks out. Ninety percent of the Hong Kong population has protection from the vaccines, however, recent outbreaks of Measles in Taiwan and Japan raised concerns for Hong Kongers. The MMR vaccine is given after age one and a booster dose is given in Primary One. Unvaccinated babies or pregnant women should avoid travelling to infected areas. If you’re unsure about immunity, you can go to your doctors to check your levels of antibodies.
Be prepared! Some transmittable diseases such as Dengue, Malaria and Zika are transmitted by mosquitos. You can bring along insect repellents, mosquito bed nets, and mosquito repellent clothing for your trip. Travelling with baby? Look for mosquito nets for cots.
Post Travel Illness
Fever after travel is considered a medical emergency and requires rapid medical evaluation. If you experience rash, diarrhea, respiratory symptoms, or stomach ailments, visit a doctor as soon as possible to receive prompt treatment.
Travel First Aid Kit
Save some space in your suitcase for these medical essentials:
Electronic ear thermometer Paracetamol
Gravol Plasters Topical antibiotic cream
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organisation in the US, has released its 12th guide to sunscreen. The guide rates the hazards and effectiveness of roughly 1,000 products, including sunscreens and moisturiser and lip products with SPF ratings. Scores range from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best. Ratings reflect the hazardous ingredients listed on the label and the degree of UVA/UVB protection the product offers. EWG recommends products that provide long lasting protection from the sun, with ingredients that pose fewer health concerns.
Ingredients to AVOID: Oxybenzone, which has been shown to cause damage to coral; Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), which EWG believes can cause skin damage; Added insect repellent.
Ingredients to LOOK FOR: Zinc oxide; Avobenzome; Mexoryl SX
Products to AVOID: Sprays,
“EWG is concerned that these products pose an inhalation risk and may not provide a thick and even coating on skin."
Products that offer SPF above 50,
“Higher SPF ratings don’t necessarily offer greater protection from UV-related skin damage, especially UVA damage, and may lead users to spend too much time in the sun.”
Products to LOOK FOR: Cream; Broad-spectrum protection; Water-resistant; SPF 15-50
Some of EWG’s top rates sunscreens
Badger Company, Sport Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35, available from iHerb $108
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Baby SPF 30+ available from iHerb $153
Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50, available from Watsons $95
Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 50
Clinique Mineral Sunscreen Lotion For Face, SPF 50
Want to know more? Visit www.ewg.org/sunscreen