There are some simple steps everyone can take to enjoy safe and healthy travel.
Steps to staying healthy when travelling
- Research your destination
- Before you go
- Visiting friends and relatives
- Avoid mosquito-borne diseases
- Avoid food-borne and water-borne infections
- Avoid sexually transmitted infections
- Don't touch the animals
- Be cautious about tattoos
- Seeking healthcare overseas
- Pack your medications
- Follow safety rules
- On your return
- For further information
Research your destination
Research reliable websites with up-to-date information on risks to health in the countries you are planning to visit, including the following:
Before you go
- See your General Practitioner or travel doctor 4-6 weeks before your trip for general health and vaccination advice, including boosters for routine vaccinations (including those you should have had in childhood, such as measles), and special vaccinations you might need for your destination.
- Ask about getting a flu shot if you're travelling to the northern hemisphere during their winter influenza season. This is particularly important if you're in a high risk group for influenza complications or your travelling on a cruise or in a large tour group.
- Check if any vaccinations are compulsory for your destination (such as yellow fever vaccine in some sub-Saharan African countries and meningococcal vaccine for travellers to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia), as you could be refused entry without them.
- Pilgrims to perform the Hajj or Umrah should see the NSW Health Hajj Travel Advice fact sheet.
- If malaria is present in the country you are visiting, you may need to start taking anti-malaria medicines several weeks before you leave.
- Discuss the risks of altitude sickness with your doctor if you're planning to travel to somewhere at high altitude (2500 metres or higher).
- Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance for the places you plan to travel to and the activities you might undertake.
Visiting friends and relatives
- People who are travelling overseas to visit friends or relatives are at higher risk for some diseases. The risk is higher because these travellers generally stay longer than tourists, eat local food in people’s homes, and may not take the same precautions (such as preventing mosquito bites) as tourists do.
- These travellers often do not see a doctor for vaccines and advice before they travel, possibly because of cost, cultural or language barriers, or limited time.
- If you are planning to travel overseas to visit friends or relatives, consider the increased risk of illnesses for you and family members and plan accordingly.
Avoid mosquito-borne diseases
- Yellow fever is a serious mosquito-borne disease that occurs in equatorial parts of Africa and South America. Travellers to these countries should be vaccinated prior to travel. For more information see the Yellow fever fact sheet.
- Malaria is a serious and sometimes life-threatening mosquito-borne disease found in many tropical and sub-tropical countries. People planning to visit malaria-affected countries should get advice about anti-malaria medicines from their GP or a travel clinic 4-6 weeks before they leave. For more information see the malaria fact sheet.
- Other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as dengue fever are common in tropical areas and can't be prevented by vaccination.
- Zika virus infection is an emerging mosquito-borne disease currently found in parts of tropical Africa, south-east Asia, the Pacific and Latin America.
- Pregnant women are at increased risk from Zika infection which can lead to serious birth defects in the baby. Pregnant women and should consult their doctor or travel clinic for personalised mosquito prevention advice prior to travel, and consider deferring travel to areas with outbreaks of Zika virus infection.
- Avoid mosquito bites by wearing light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs, and by regularly applying a mosquito insect repellent on all exposed skin areas. Reapply the repellent according to instructions or when you notice mosquitoes biting.
- Avoid putting insect repellent near the eyes and mouth, or over open wounds, broken skin or abrasions. Always follow the product label instructions. The most effective mosquito repellents contain Diethyl Toluamide (DEET) or Picaridin. Repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) (also known as Extract of Lemon Eucalyptus) or para menthane diol (PMD) also provide adequate protection.
- In regions where insect borne diseases are prevalent stay in accommodation which provides insecticide impregnated mosquito netting or insect screens on windows.
- For more information see the Mosquitoes are a health hazard fact sheet.
Avoid food-borne and water-borne infections
- If you are unsure about the safety of the local water try to drink bottled or boiled water only (boil water for at least one minute). Water purification tablets may be required in remote locations, although they may not kill all parasites.
- In countries with poor sanitation raw food such as salads or fruit may be contaminated; if in doubt wash, cook or peel fruit yourself. Street food should be avoided if possible.
- Vaccinations are recommended for some food borne infections, such as typhoid and hepatitis A for visitors to countries where these infections are prevalent.
- Avoid any dairy products which may not have been pasteurised.
- Take care about swimming or wading in fresh water in some countries. Infections such as schistosomiasis and leptospirosis are spread by contact with fresh water. These microbes can penetrate the skin, so swallowing water isn’t necessary to cause infection. Avoid contact with any fresh water (lakes, rivers, streams) where these infections are a problem.
Don't touch the animals
- Rabies is common in many parts of the world and can be carried by many mammals, including cats, dogs, bats and monkeys. Animals also carry many other infections.
- Rabies in humans is a rare but fatal disease which is transmitted by a bite or scratch from an infected animal.
- Avoid handling any animals, including pets.
- If you are bitten or scratched by any animal you should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, apply an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine to help prevent infection and seek urgent medical attention to get post exposure treatment for rabies prevention, if required.
- For more information see the NSW Health Rabies Information fact sheet for Travellers.
Avoid sexually transmitted infections
- Practice safer sex by using condoms to reduce the risk of catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, hepatitis B, gonorrhoea and shigellosis.
- STIs maybe more common in some overseas countries than in Australia.
Be cautious about tattoos
- Tattoo parlours in many overseas countries have poor hygiene standards and may reuse needles. There is a risk of catching serious infections such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C as well as other skin infections. Don't get a tattoo overseas unless you know the equipment used is sterile.
Seeking healthcare overseas
- Be aware that doctors and other healthcare providers overseas may not practice the same level of infection control as in Australia. They may reuse needles between patients or have other unsafe injection practices, which can transmit diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and HIV.
- If you are planning to travel to another country for medical care, discuss with your local doctor or travel medicine clinic at least 4–6 weeks before the trip to discuss the specific risks related to the procedure and travel before and after the procedure
- Check for the qualifications of the health care providers who will be doing the procedure and the credentials of the facility where the procedure will be done.
- For more information see the Smart Traveller Medical Tourism website.
Pack your medications
- Don't forget your regular medicines and always carry them in the original packaging with the label. You should get a letter from your doctor or carry the prescription.
- Some medications are banned overseas and you should check this with the embassy of the country you are visiting before you leave. Embassy contacts can be found at: Embassies in Australia
Follow safety rules
- Road traffic accidents are one of the most common causes of injury and death of Australian travellers.
- Road rules may differ overseas; it is wise to apply Australian standards like wearing a seatbelt in cars and helmets on motorcycles or bicycles even if it is not required by local rules.
On your return
- If you become unwell on your return home, don't forget to tell your doctor which countries you have visited.
- Some infectious diseases can take a long time to give rise to symptoms, and this information can help reach a speedier diagnosis and treatment.
For further information
Call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.