Good Advice Health and Safety abroad

How to cope with... Falling ill abroad

Sister publication Business Traveller suggests solutions to common travel problems. This month: falling ill abroad.

Most frequent travellers will know how to avoid getting ill abroad, but every now and again we can all be complacent, simply unlucky, or caught unawares. So if you find yourself out of sorts, what should you do?


The advice is the same wherever you are going – be prepared. To research the potential health risks of every country in the world, including what vaccinations and medication you will need, visit, the National Travel Health Network and Centre, before you travel. If you need to be vaccinated, visit a travel clinic or your local GP – you can find your nearest clinic in the British Travel Health Association’s directory at Dr Lisa Ford, medical adviser at Liverpool’s Well Travelled Clinic, says: “Some vaccines can take up to six weeks to work, but even if you’ve left it to the last minute, it is still worth seeing someone. You can find clinics in some airports.”


Make sure the insurance policy you are travelling under covers medical emergencies and repatriation at monetary limits appropriate to where you are going – for example, remember that medical costs in the US are significantly higher than in European countries. Any pre-existing medical conditions must be declared, and you might have to be passed as “fit to travel” by your GP or else your claim may be void.

In Europe, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC, will allow the holder state-provided healthcare in the country they are visiting, but you will probably still be required to pay for it. Therefore, travel insurance is necessary.

Remember that insurance does not cover everything. Losing your inhibitions in unfamiliar surroundings is a common cause of injury and insurers may refuse to cover the costs. Jeff Rush, chief executive of Rush Insurance, said: “Any alcohol or drug-abuse related incidents would not be covered by any travel insurance policy, leisure or business.”


It is estimated that up to half of the 80 million visitors to developing countries every year contract Travellers’ Diarrhoea (TD). Poor hygiene is the main cause, and using common sense is the best way to avoid it – stick to cooked fozods, shun salads, unpeeled fruits and ice, and use antibacterial hand gel before eating.

In malarial countries, don’t forget insect repellent and antimalarial tablets. Professor David Hill, director of the Health Protection Agency’s National Travel Health Network and Centre, advises you to be aware if you develop a fever and have been in the country for more than a week. Other symptoms are headache, chills and vomiting.

Dengue fever is less documented but is endemic in more than 100 tropic and subtropic countries, affecting an estimated 50 million people a year. Symptoms include a high fever, headaches, nausea, a rash, or bone, joint and muscular pains. Like malaria, it is transmitted by mosquitos, but is more common in urban areas. Ford says: “Apply insect repellent regularly and wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothes – insects can bite through a tight T-shirt.”


Unfortunately, you can stick to these rules and still be struck down. Professor Larry Goddyer, head of the school of pharmacy at De Montfort University, says: “Business travellers should take antibiotics [such as ciprofloxacin on prescription] because if you are there for only a day, TD could ruin your whole trip.” Compile a personal first aid kit that includes anti-diarrhoea tablets, rehydration salts, painkillers, clean needles and syringes, plasters, water purification tablets, antihistamines, antacids and antiseptics.


If symptoms persist and you have a fever or stomach cramps, seek medical attention. The International Society of Travel Medicine’s website,, will help you to locate clinics in the vicinity of where you are visiting. Your hotel should also be able to assist. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( has an emergency number for UK citizens abroad, +44 (0)20 7008 1500, and will contact family members if you are hospitalised.

Still, insurance is the most important thing – call your provider as soon as possible. If your trip was booked through a travel management company, they can advise on risks before you travel, change flights so you can get home or help to arrange medical treatment in the country you are in.


  • Research the risks:
  • Find a travel clinic:
  • Check your insurance cover for medical costs, repatriation and being “fit for travel”.
  • The EHIC for Europe won’t cover everything but is worth having:
  • Water and food: boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it.
  • Stock up on medicine:
  • Locate clinics abroad:
  • The Foreign Office:, tel +44 (0)20 7008 1500

Will Aslan