Food and drink
Bali belly, Pharaoh’s curse, the Aztec two-step – diarrhoea affects between 30 and 70 per cent of all travellers, depending on the destination and season of travel. Bacterial pathogens are the most common cause, spread by eating food prepared by an infected person or even by eating food that has been grown using contaminated water.
In areas of risk, essentially anywhere in the third world, avoid salads and raw vegetables unless it comes from a trusted source. Stick to fruits you peel yourself, and always wash your hands before eating or disinfect with hand sanitiser. Food in large, western-style hotels and food that is prepared to order, including freshly cooked street food, is generally safe.
There are some places where you definitely don’t want to drink the water that comes out of the tap. Even brushing your teeth can expose you to bacteria, viruses, protozoa and intestinal worms that can live in water, and they’re a potential hazard for travellers. Sterile bottled water is available just about everywhere these days. If not, there’s a quick and easy solution if you have an electric kettle in your hotel room. Common intestinal pathogens are rendered inactive by boiling. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends boiling for one minute.
If you don’t trust the water you might not want ice in your drinks. There is no guarantee that the ice is made from boiled water and some pathogens can survive freezing temperatures. If you’re eating out and have doubts about the water on the table, soda water is a risk-free alternative.
Every breath you take in some cities is bad for your health. Delhi, Beijing, Varanasi and Agra have some of the world’s worst air pollution, many times more harmful than the level the World Health Organisation regards as safe. Long-term exposure to air pollution carries elevated risks for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer. Most travellers might be in these places only a few days and there is a lack of clinical research on the effects of short-term exposure, however many visitors report breathing difficulties. For concerned travellers, face masks are a partial solution but they vary widely in effectiveness. Those that work best are P2 Particulate Respirators but a tight fit is essential and facial hair can reduce the effectiveness.
Reciprocal medical agreements
Several countries have reciprocal health-care agreements with Australia. Typically that covers you for medical emergencies, although a co-payment may be required. The list includes Belgium, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and Finland. What you’re covered for in those countries varies but you can check the details if you Google “Smartraveller reciprocal health care agreements”.
What to pack in your travel medical kit
- Hand sanitiser
- Paracetamol or aspirin
- Dressing for cuts and abrasions
- Diarrhoea medication such as Lomotil or Imodium
- Cold and flu tablets
- Antiseptic solution such as Betadine
- Fluid and electrolyte replacement powder or tablets
- Insect repellent
- Eye drops