WHAT IS TRAVEL HEALTH?
Looking after your health while travelling includes taking any necessary precautions against certain health risks that are more likely when travelling abroad. This could be vaccinations against specific diseases or protection from sun exposure, as well as continuing to manage any existing conditions that may be affected by new climates or long-haul flights.
Each destination you visit may require different precautions and depending on your age, vaccination status or medical history, the steps you can take to look after your travel health will differ.
TRAVEL HEALTH CONDITIONS & ADVICE
From insect bites and stings to travel sickness and jetlag, there are a number of travel health aspects that you may want to be prepared for if you have an upcoming trip.
Insect bites and stings usually leave you with a red, swollen lump on the skin that may be painful or itchy.
Bugs that bite or sting in the United Kingdom include:
Bugs, animals and fish that bite or sting abroad include:
- Tsetse flies
- Black flies
- Stinging fish
If bitten or stung abroad seek urgent medical attention.
Try to cover any exposed skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers and make sure to wear shoes when outside. Avoid wearing products with strong perfumes as these can attract insects and apply insect repellent (which may contain DEET. Use biocides safely. Always read the product information and label before use) to any exposed skin.
You may also decide to use another form of insect-repellent, such as a plug-in mosquito vaporiser in your holiday accommodation or a mosquito net placed over the bed at night. Always use insect repellents safely, always read the product information and label before use.
Remember to try to remain calm if you encounter a wasp, hornet or bee and take care not to swat them away from you.
Most insect bites and stings are not serious and will improve within a few hours or days. Speak to your pharmacist about medicines that may be suitable for you that you can take on your trip to help with pain, swelling and itchiness. These include things like bite and sting relief cream, allergy relief (always read the label) or other bite relief tools, such as a click-it pen which helps relieve the urge to scratch.
If you’ve been bitten or stung by an insect:
• Remove the sting or tick using clean tweezers if it’s still in the skin. Don’t twist or jerk the tick as this can cause the mouth part to break off and remain in the skin
• Wash the area with soap and water or a cleansing wipe
• Apply a cold compress or an ice pack to any swelling for at least 10 minutes
• Raise or elevate the affected area to help reduce swelling
• Avoid scratching the area to reduce the risk of infection
• Avoid traditional home remedies – for example, vinegar or bicarbonate of soda – as they’re unlikely to help
Occasionally insect bites and stings may become infected or cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) or spread a serious illness such as Lyme disease.
You should seek medical attention if you’ve been bitten or stung by an insect and there’s a lot of swelling or blistering, or you notice pus, which could be a sign of an infection. You should also seek medical attention if you've been stung or bitten in your mouth or throat, or near your eyes, if a large area around the skin (10cm or more) becomes red and swollen, your symptoms don't improve after a few days or are getting worse or you have symptoms of a more widespread infection such as a high temperature.
Call 999 or local emergency health provider if you’ve been bitten or stung and you have:
• Wheezing or difficulty breathing
• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
• A fast heart rate
• Dizziness or feeling faint
• Difficulty swallowing
• Confusion, anxiety or agitation
Injuries caused by animal bites or scratches are common worldwide. These are most often caused by dogs, cats, monkeys and snakes. The main concern, if you are bitten abroad, is contracting rabies, if you've been bitten you will always require post-exposure treatment. If you are bitten or injured by an animal, carry out first aid and seek medical help as soon as possible.
Basic first aid includes:
• Washing wounds and surrounding skin thoroughly with soap and water, and then flushing under a running tap for several minutes
• Encouraging the wound to bleed by gently pinching it
• Removing any objects from the wound such as teeth, hair or dirt
• Washing skin even if it doesn’t appear broken, to remove any animal saliva
• Applying an antiseptic
• Covering the wound with a clean dry dressing, pad or cloth
• Taking painkillers such as paracetamol if suitable for you
Malaria is a serious disease transmitted through the bites of a specific mosquito (the female anopheles mosquito). It’s very common in certain parts of the world, normally in tropical regions.
The early symptoms of malaria include a high fever (very hot body temperature), headache and chills, which can be easily mistaken for flu-like symptoms. As no symptom precisely indicates malaria, it’s crucial to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you have visited an area where malaria is found, and you display any of the following:
• Muscle aches
• Generally feeling unwell
• Nausea and vomiting
Malaria symptoms can appear from within a week to a year after an initial bite, so be aware of any changes in health when you return from your trip. Ask for an urgent appointment with your GP or get help from NHS 111 if you have travelled to a country where malaria is found and you have malaria symptoms.
Malaria prevention medication may be recommended for your trip if you visit an area where malaria is found. Book an online consultation or an in-store appointment with the Boots Malaria Prevention Service* to learn more.
To help reduce your risk of insect bites or malaria, if you’re travelling to a country where it’s found, wear long-sleeved clothing and trousers to cover your arms and legs and take any antimalarial medicine you're prescribed exactly as directed. Use an insect repellent with 50% DEET for long-lasting protection from mosquitos, midges and other biting insects, and consider packing a plug-in mosquito vaporizer to use in your holiday accommodation.
Travellers’ diarrhoea is one of the most common health problems you can experience when you travel. It’s a stomach bug that most commonly causes diarrhoea and vomiting.
It can be caused by a variety of different germs, such as bacteria like E.coli or salmonella, or viruses like norovirus. Travellers’ diarrhoea is mainly spread through food and water but can also be spread from person to person too.
Most cases are mild, lasting around three to five days, and don’t need any specific treatment. However, there is a range of diarrhoea relief products available, such as anti-diarrhoea tablets and rehydration sachets. It’s important to discuss what’s suitable for you with your pharmacist, as these products may not be appropriate for you in some cases.
It’s also important to stay hydrated, as diarrhoea can cause you to lose lots of water from your body quickly.
You should seek medical attention if you or your child:
• Have more than six episodes of diarrhoea in 24 hours
• Have passed blood or mucous (slime) in your stools
• Keep vomiting
• Have a fever
• Have severe tummy pain
• Have diarrhoea for more than seven days
Seek medical attention if your baby has vomited 3 times or more in the past 24 hours, or if they are under 12 months with diarrhoea and you're worried.
To help prevent travellers’ diarrhoea, wash your hands regularly using soap and clean water, especially when using a public toilet or before eating and drinking, and after touching live animals or visiting a food market.
Learn more about how to stop travellers’ diarrhoea from ruining your holiday.
Travel sickness, or motion sickness, is caused by the repeated and unusual movements you experience when travelling, such as a car going over bumps or swaying in a boat. The sickness is caused by the inner ear sending different signals to your brain from those your eyes are seeing, which confuses your body and causes you to feel unwell.
It’s common to experience travel or motion sickness when travelling in cars, boats or on planes and can be made worst by activities like reading a book or looking down at devices.
If you begin to feel motion sick, you should:
• Try and reduce motion by sitting in the front of a car or the middle of a boat
• Look straight ahead at a fixed point
• Break up the journey by getting some fresh air, drinking water or taking a walk
You may want to consider taking extra water, snacks or a carrier or zip-lock bag with you on your journey in case you are physically sick.
Symptoms of motion sickness tend to resolve themselves once the journey is over, however, they may continue for a few more hours.
Your pharmacist will be able to advise on tablets you can buy to prevent motion sickness.
Sunburn is skin damage that’s caused by the sun’s UV (ultraviolet) rays. It causes the skin to become red and feel hot and sore.
It usually occurs when somebody has had too much exposure or spent too long in the sun. If you have been sunburnt, you should get out of the sun as soon as possible and drink plenty of water to help cool yourself down and prevent dehydration. You can apply an aftersun lotion, cream or spray or antiseptic or specialist creams for skin irritation, which you can get at your local pharmacy or boots.com. You can also take pain relief like ibuprofen or paracetamol if they are suitable for you to help with any pain.
You can help prevent sunburn by applying a generous amount of sunscreen every two hours or as often as the product recommends, especially if you are in and out of a swimming pool or the sea. You can learn more about UV rays and sun protection here.
Find more information about sunscreens for darker skin tones here.
Sunburn can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Heat exhaustion doesn’t usually need medical help if you are able to cool yourself down within 30 minutes and drink plenty of fluids. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include tiredness, dizziness, headaches and feeling or being sick. However, if heat exhaustion turns into heatstroke, seek medical help immediately. Symptoms include:
• Still feeling unwell after 30 minutes of resting in a cool place
• A very high temperature
• Skin that is hot to touch, dry (not sweating) and might look red
• A fast heartbeat
• Shortness of breath or fast breathing
• Lack of coordination
• A seizure or fit
• Loss of consciousness
Find more information about travel health conditions and vaccinations.
Japanese encephalitis is a serious viral brain infection that’s spread through mosquito bites. It’s most commonly around in South East Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Far East.
The risk for most short-stay travellers is low – it is a higher risk for those visiting more rural areas and those staying near rice fields or pig farms for one month or longer.
The most effective way to prevent Japanese encephalitis is with a vaccination.
Find more information about Japanese encephalitis.
The rabies virus attacks the nervous system, causing inflammation on the brain and spinal cord. It’s usually transmitted to humans by a bite or scratch from an infected animal, or through their bodily fluids coming into contact with your eyes, nose, mouth or through broken skin. Rabies is most commonly found in Africa, Asia and Central and South America.
Symptoms of rabies usually appear after three to 12 weeks, and without treatment, the disease is almost always fatal. However, immediate treatment is very effective.
Travellers are reminded to consider the risk of rabies and advised not to go near animals or attract strays. Pre-exposure rabies vaccinations may also be recommended for your trip.
Find out more information about Rabies.
Tetanus is a rare disease caused by bacterial spores that are found in soil and animal manure. If these spores enter the bloodstream, they release a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system and causes pain and serious symptoms including:
• Stiffness in your jaw muscles, which can make it difficult to open your mouth
• Painful muscle spasms which can make it difficult to breathe and swallow
• A high temperature
• A rapid heartbeat
It can’t be passed from human to human but can enter the body through cuts, puncture wounds and scratches.
Most people have a series of tetanus injections during childhood but it’s sometimes necessary to get them as an adult too, particularly if you’re travelling.
Find out more information about Tetanus.
Yellow fever is a serious infection that’s spread through a mosquito bite. It’s most commonly found in towns and rural areas in most of Sub-Saharan Africa and South America, and part of Central America and the Caribbean.
• A high temperature
• A headache
• Feeling sick or vomiting
• Muscle pain and backache
• Your eyes being sensitive to light
• Loss of appetite and feeling generally unwell
Some people may also experience:
• Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
• Bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes or ears
• Vomiting blood or blood in poo
Some countries require proof of vaccination to enter the country.
Find out more information about yellow fever.
Find more information about travel health conditions and vaccinations here.
Jet Lag occurs when you travel across multiple time zones. It is caused by a disruption to your circadian rhythm (your sleep schedule) and can leave you with disturbed sleep, concentration problems, headaches and nausea. Jet lag usually improves after a few days when your body has adjusted to the change in time zone.
While jet lag can’t be prevented completely, there are things you can do to help minimise its effect on you. Before your trip, you can ease your body into your new time zone by going to bed earlier or later each evening for a few days beforehand, and time your sleep on your flight when it would be night-time at your destination. Using an eye mask or earplugs can help with falling asleep on the flight.
If you are experiencing temporary sleep disturbance due to jet lag, you may consider Boots Sleepeaze Tablets (which contains diphenhydramine hydrochloride. Always read the label) if suitable for you to help you get a restful night’s sleep. Find more tips and advice for preventing jet lag here.
If you’d like support with jet lag, you may wish to consider accessing the Boots Online Doctor Jet Lag Treatment service.**
Looking after your feet can lower the risk of having a fall, reduce the risk of infections and relieve pain. Before travelling you may want to treat any existing foot conditions you have, such as athletes’ foot, cracked or hard skin or foot odour.
If you have a wart or verruca and will be using a swimming pool, cover them with a plaster to prevent the virus from spreading to other people – as this is more likely to happen when skin is wet or damaged. If you develop a wart or verruca once you return home from your trip, your pharmacist can advise you on treatments which are available, such as creams, plasters and sprays.
You’re more likely to develop a fungal nail infection when your feet are constantly warm and damp, so if you’re travelling somewhere with a warm climate, aim to keep your feet clean and dry and change your socks every day. Your pharmacist can help with advice and treatment for fungal nail infections.
Find more footcare advice here.
If you are due to have your menstrual period during your trip, you may be eligible to access treatment to delay your period via the Boots Online Doctor Period Delay Tablets service.* As periods are triggered by a drop in progesterone every month, the tablets prescribed via this service contain a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone and by taking these, the progesterone hormone levels remain high which can delay a period for up to 17 days.
Some people experience some side effects when taking period delay tablets, these may include some spotting, irregular bleeding, sore breasts, a lower sex drive and an upset stomach.
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot in a vein which usually occurs in the leg.
• Throbbing pain in one leg, usually in the calf or thigh when walking or standing up, this can occur in both legs but is rare
• Swelling in one leg, this can occur in both legs but is rare
• Warm skin around the painful area
• Red or darkened skin around the painful area
• Swollen veins that are hard or sore when you touch them
The annual incidence of deep vein thrombosis is estimated to be about 1 in 1000. However, the risk of developing it is higher during a flight or any other type of journey that is longer than three hours. This is due to prolonged seating and immobility (not moving).
To reduce your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis on a long journey, wear loose clothing and walk around where possible. You should also drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. You may want to try a pair of flight socks with compression levels to help reduce your risk too.
Deep vein thrombosis can be dangerous. Ask for an urgent GP appointment or contact NHS 111 if you think you have a deep vein thrombosis.
The feeling of pain or blockage in your ears during a flight (sometimes known as airplane ear) is down to the change in pressure in the air. Usually, this will settle after your plane lands, but occasionally the feeling can continue. If this is the case, seek medical advice.
If you have a perforated eardrum, it is safe to travel, and you may find your level of discomfort to be lower than normal. However, if you have had surgery to repair a perforated eardrum, you shouldn’t travel until your doctor or surgeon says it’s safe to do so.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal which can cause your ear to feel itchy, sore or mildly painful. It’s usually caused by water getting trapped inside the ear canal which can then encourage bacteria or fungus to grow.
To lower the risk of developing swimmer’s ear while on your trip, you may want to pack a pair of swimming earplugs. If you develop swimmer’s ear or an ear infection, see your GP or you can access the Boots Online Doctor Swimmer’s Ear Treatment service.*
It’s common for children to suffer with certain travel illnesses when you go away.
Sickness or diarrhoea
If your child is experiencing any symptoms of sickness or diarrhoea, keep them hydrated with plenty of fluid.
You should seek medical attention if your child:
• Has more than six episodes of diarrhoea in 24 hours
• Has passed blood or mucous (slime) in their stools
• Keeps vomiting, has a fever or severe tummy pain
• Has diarrhoea for more than seven days
If your baby has vomited three times or more in 24 hours, or if they are under 12 months with diarrhoea and you are worried, seek medical attention.
Bites & stings
For protection and relief from bites and stings, you can find specially formulated insect-repellent lotions for kids and antihistamines suitable for children. Speak to your pharmacist to find out what is suitable for your child.
Protecting children from the sun and sunburn is incredibly important when you travel, as babies and young children can become ill during very hot weather. Keep babies cool and protected by the sun and out of direct sunlight and apply a sun cream with a sun protection factor of at least SPF50.
There are a number of products to help make travelling with a toddler or child easier for you, it's recommended to pack a children’s first aid kit.
If you are travelling with a baby, there are also products available to help you continue with your daily feeding routine without disruption, such as sterilising tablets and kits.
Before travelling you should check what rules apply to taking your medicine out of the UK and into the country you’re visiting. In some cases, you may need to provide a letter of proof from the person who prescribed your medicine or a personal licence. Visit gov.uk/travelling-controlled-drugs to find out more.
Carry any medicines and medical equipment in their original packaging as these will contain the correct labels, and pack them in your hand luggage along with a copy of your prescription. If you’re travelling somewhere warm, get advice from your GP or pharmacist on how best to store your medicine.
Find out more information about how our pharmacists and pharmacy teams can help you with your prescription on the Boots Prescription Support page.
LEARN MORE ABOUT TRAVEL HEALTH
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
You should aim to get your travel vaccinations six to eight weeks before you’re due to travel as your body needs time to develop immunity. Some vaccines will require multiple doses spread over several weeks or months.
You can use the Boots Travel Vaccination Quick Check Tool to find out which vaccinations are recommended for your destination. You can also book an appointment with the Boots Travel Vaccinations and Health Advice Service* for more information or to receive the following vaccinations:
• Hepatitis A
• Hepatitis B
• Japanese encephalitis
• Meningitis ACWY
• Tick-borne encephalitis
• Yellow fever
Some travel vaccinations may cause mild side effects, such as the yellow fever vaccine, which can cause symptoms like a mild fever, headaches or nausea. Side effects like this can occur from the day of the vaccination up until around two weeks after the vaccine and should last no more than three days.
The Boots Travel Vaccinations and Health Advice Service** is available from two years of age. Book an appointment in-store or with your GP to determine which vaccines will be suitable for your child.
The length of time you are protected by vaccination will differ for different vaccines. For example, two doses of the hepatitis A vaccination should protect you for at least 25 years, whereas booster vaccinations of the typhoid vaccine are recommended every three years if you continue to be at risk of infection.
Book an appointment in one of the over 200 stores nationwide or with your GP to find out which vaccinations are recommended for your upcoming trip.
*Eligibility criteria and charges apply. Available in most Boots pharmacies and online, subject to availability.
**Access to treatment is subject to an online consultation with a clinician to assess suitability. Subject to availability. Charges apply.