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A guide for preventing and dealing with illness abroad


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Imagine you’re on holiday. You’re enjoying the hot weather, have rediscovered a love for sangria and don’t have to think about work for at least another week. Life doesn’t get much better than this – not until you wake up in a sweat in a strange foreign place with a pounding headache and aching muscles all over your body at least.

There’s never a good time to be ill, but feeling sick abroad can make you feel absolutely awful. Knowing what to do in such a situation can help you feel better immediately, as you won’t have to worry about how to cope.

These tips shouldn’t replace expert medical advice: please consult a medical professional if you are at all concerned about your health and wellbeing.

Think like a Scout

Before leaving make sure your insurance provides adequate health cover for your travels. Short-term travel insurance doesn’t have to cost much, and provides you with the peace of mind that should the worst happen you won’t need to make a choice between the health of your finances and the health of your body. If you’re travelling in a European Economic Area country a European Health Insurance Card will entitle you to state funded medical care – apply for one of these even if you have insurance, as some companies will waive or reduce excess charges on claims.

If you are on any medication make sure you have enough to get you through your holiday, leaving them in their original container so that you, and anyone else, can be certain of what they are. A letter from your doctor that explains what your condition is and sets out the medication you are on (including the general names for any drugs) can also be helpful.

Even if you aren’t on any regular medication, packing commonly used drugs such as painkillers and decongestants can save you the trouble of trying to find a local pharmacy and working out what it is that you need.

Oh, and if you didn’t know or hadn’t guessed, the Scout Motto is Be Prepared. Even if you don’t know your Baden Powel from your Akela you can aspire to follow this sound piece of advice.

Finding a pharmacy or doctor

We can count ourselves lucky that English is the most widely spoken language in the world, so the chances of there being an English speaking doctor available near you are high, especially if you are in a popular tourist destination. Your embassy can help you locate an English speaking doctor or you may find that your insurance provider has a list of suitable doctors. If you’re staying in a hotel, a call to the front desk might be all you need to do.

Know Your Destination

There is a higher risk of disease or illness, such as polio and typhoid in certain countries, which is why you need to find out whether there are any required or recommended vaccinations well in advance of travelling. If you are going somewhere that you imagine finding an English speaking doctor or even a pharmacy will be hard do your research beforehand (think like a Scout, remember?).

Act fast or slow down

You’re not going to win any medals for ignoring those early symptoms and ploughing on with your holiday as if nothing’s happened so keep an eye out for warning signs so you can act fast to contain any problems.

Similarly, make sure you’re giving your body a chance to rest. If you’re having a lot of late nights and early starts consider taking it easy for a day or two. If your holiday involves a lot of sun and alcohol you don’t want to risk becoming dehydrated.

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Written by Stephen Pritchard for 7Brands, who can provide certified medical translations to ensure you’re understood in any language.

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