Five travel health myths

In the third of our series looking at the health risks posed by different countries and continents, we discuss five travel health myths and nine items pharmacies should stock

5 travel health myths: Infectious diseases specialist Dr Bernard Hudson elaborates on the facts and fictions of travel health.

Myth 1: If you stay at a 5-star hotel you’re not at risk

“If you think you’re going to avoid hepatitis A by staying at a five-star hotel – you’re wrong,” says Dr Hudson.

“Five-star hotels have their benefits, but when it comes to infectious diseases you’re still at risk of contracting them.

“Almost 100% of travellers have a dietary indiscretion. And hepatitis A is so common, even if you’re trying your best to eat right.”

Myth 2: I was vaccinated as a child, so I’m still immune

People who are visiting family overseas are more likely to have less contact or consultation with a doctor before their trip.

However Dr Hudson says “it’s always a good idea to visit your doctor before going overseas, including making sure your childhood vaccinations are up-to-date and your influenza vaccination is annual”.

“Influenza is probably the most preventable infectious disease in travellers,” he says.

Myth 3: Drinks made with ice are fine because freezing kills the germs

It’s the opposite, says Dr Hudson.

“In fact, freezing preserved germs. So you’re best off learning how to say ‘no ice please’ in the language of the country you’re going to.”

Myth 4: I was born there so I must have natural immunity to local diseases

According to Sanofi’s Travel Together report, almost half (49%) of ‘at-risk’ travellers believe Australians returning to their country of origin to visit friends and family are less likely to become sick during their stay, compared to Australians who travel there for other reasons.

And more than 2 in 5 (43%) ‘at-risk’ travellers believe that Australian children whose parents grew up in developing countries inherit immunity to diseases in those countries from their parents.

Immunity for some diseases don’t last long at all, says Dr Hudson.

For example, malaria immunity only lasts one year.

People from Australia also have greater risk of traveller’s diarrhoea.

“You should always assume you’re at risk,” says Dr Hudson. “If anything you may be at more risk because if you share the language and culture, you’re more likely to go off the beaten track.

“The closer you get to the local people and culture, the more at risk you are.”

Myth 5: I’m not travelling to an at-risk destination, so I don’t have any travel health needs

Again, there is a huge need to consult a healthcare professional. Dr Hudson reminds travellers not to assume they know what they’ll encounter on their travels.

“You might think you know what the range of illnesses are in those places. But the reality is the health systems don’t know how common some are, and we know because people come back with these illnesses. For example, Japanese encephalitis, cholera… You always have to get up-to-date information for that destination,” he says.

“Things change quickly, some things we know about, some things we don’t.”

Top 9 pharmacy items

Yvonne Nguyen and Susan Nguyen, the owners of a travel destination pharmacy in north-west Sydney, say they are fully prepared to help their customers prepare for the risks and vagaries of travel.

“We have specialised travel specific products such as Travelan and Bushman’s DEET to differentiate ourselves as a travel health destination and have a dedicated travel section and decorated area,” say Yvonne and Susan.

“We always stock the vaccines that patients will require, and we are aware of doctors that are yellow fever accredited to refer our patients accordingly.”

Here are Yvonne and Susan’s top 9 pharmacy items for travellers:

  1. Insect repellent
  2. Travel-specific probiotic (Travalan)
  3. Analgesics
  4. Sunscreens
  5. Rehydration salts
  6. Basic first aid kits – antiseptic, bandaids
  7. Anti-diarrhoeals
  8. Sea sickness or ginger tablets
  9. Hand sanitiser

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