Southeast Asia is a popular travel destination, with the number of international tourists rising by 10% in 2013, to a total of 248 million*. When planning your visit it’s important to consider all aspects of your travel health, from making sure you have the necessary vaccinations before travelling, to looking after yourself whilst you are there.
As with any travel abroad, you should arrange to have the necessary vaccinations a minimum of 6-8 weeks before travelling, as it can take this long to complete the required course of jabs. You are highly likely to need vaccinations when travelling anywhere in Southeast Asia, with the possible exception of Singapore.
There are different places you can get travel advice and obtain vaccinations, so it’s worth looking into this advance of your 6-8 week deadline to ensure you allow yourself enough time to book an appointment. Some GP surgeries have in-house travel clinics, but if your local surgery does not offer this facility you can find specialist travel clinics, which are usually private, all over the country. The International Society of Travel Medicine has a Global Travel Clinic Directory online, where you can access a full list of travel clinics all over the world.
When travelling to Southeast Asia, you can almost certainly expect to need vaccinating against the following diseases:
- Hepatitis A: Spread through contaminated water and food, especially shellfish or through person to person contact where personal hygiene is poor
- Tetanus: Caused by bacteria, and usually contracted when a flesh wound is infected. It is worth being aware that recommendations surrounding tetanus vaccinations vary in different parts of the world. In the UK, once you’ve had five vaccinations you don’t need any more for life, but when going abroad you might need more, so it’s important to seek advice before travelling.
- Typhoid: A bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of contaminated food or water. Typhoid vaccinations only last three years, so don’t get caught out by thinking you are protected from a past vaccination.
- Malaria: A serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes, that can be fatal if not treated properly. Though this does not involve a vaccination, you will need to take medication to protect yourself and your travel GP or nurse will be able to help you organise this. It’s very important to be aware that malaria risks vary hugely depending on the area you are visiting. Even within a single country, there can be very different risks in the city, the coast and the highlands, so specialist assessment before travel is paramount.
It is also likely that your travel GP or nurse will consider recommending vaccinations against cholera, diphtheria and hepatitis B.
Once you have received the necessary vaccinations, it’s extremely important to keep your vaccination card with your passport and travel with it. Some countries require certain vaccinations for you to enter and carrying your vaccination card with you whilst abroad will also enable medical professionals to easily check what you are vaccinated against, in the event of a medical emergency.
It’s also important to be aware of native illnesses that vaccinations may not protect you against. For example, there is currently an outbreak of measles in Vietnam, which is especially important for people travelling from the UK, as this is one of few countries not to have vaccinated its entire population against MMR (due to concerns from some parents in the late 90s).
Dengue Fever is also far more common than you think in Southeast Asia and other countries. It’s spread by mosquitos that bite in the daytime and are most commonly found in urban areas. There is no vaccination available, so it’s especially important to take precautions to protect yourself from mosquitos. Along with malaria and Dengue Fever, many other diseases are spread by insects, so ensure you have a good repellent with deet, cover up as much as possible (especially after sunset) and if necessary, use a mosquito net at night. Be very cautious about relying on mosquito bracelets or plugs; there is little evidence of their reliability and using a good repellent and covering up will be far more effective.
Last but most certainly not least, make sure you have suitable travel insurance before you depart. Always have copy of your insurance policy with you, keep a copy online, and make sure the people you are travelling with know who you are insured with. This will ensure you have access to 24/7 helpline to call for non-emergency or emergency advice, and that you are fully covered for medical treatment and related costs during your stay. Also make sure that your insurance covers you for all the activities you plan to do whilst you are travelling, and bear in mind that your insurer could refuse to cover you for medical treatment required as a result of alcohol, drug or other risky activities.
It might sound like a fair bit to prepare before you travel, but the time involved is minimal in comparison to the issues you could face without the necessary precautions in place. Ultimately, knowing you’re well prepared will enable you to relax and enjoy your trip.
If you have any questions or concerns about looking after your health when travelling anywhere in the world, you can ask me your questions at AXA PPP healthcare’s online travel health Q&A, on Friday 23 May 2014 from 2-4pm. Join the live Q&A or submit questions in advance at www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/chat. You can also tweet your questions to @AXAPPPhealth in advance, or during the Q&A.
Guest blog post by Steve Iley, Medical Director for Health Services at AXA PPP healthcare.
*UNWTO World Tourism Barometer