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Travelling overseas for holidays is an exciting time!

Everyone wants to catch a glimpse of the outside world and gain exposure to the myriad of cultures and experiences available beyond their own borders.

However there are unique health hazards that come with traveling, and each location has its own unique risks.

One of the most important ways to protect yourself is with knowledge of those risks, and vaccinations against common communicable diseases for the countries you will be visiting.

Before making the final arrangements of your next trip, get in touch with us and let us guide you through the best way to protect yourself whilst abroad.

Ponsonby Doctors provides travelers with professional medical services and advice to enable a safe and enjoyable holiday or work trip. If you are planning your next holiday or travelling overseas for work our doctors are here to make sure you come back healthy.


Here are some of the best ways you can protect yourself.

Before the trip

If you are travelling to a (sub) tropical country then good preparation can help prevent many possible health problems. You are therefore well advised to take action before your departure.


It is possible to be vaccinated against a number of diseases before you travel. Vaccinations can prevent you from getting ill, or lessen the severity of your condition should this happen.

Vaccinations are not always immediately effective: sometimes they take time to work or need to be given as a series of two or three injections over a number of days or weeks. It is important therefore to make an appointment with Travel Clinic at least 6 weeks before your proposed trip.

Even if this is not possible you should still contact us: last minute vaccinations or a course of malaria tablets will give you more protection during your trip than if you do nothing at all. We will use the information you give us about your health to determine which vaccinations are appropriate.

Click here to make an appointment.


If you are on medication please remember the following:

  • Take enough medicine with you. Ask your doctor for sufficient medication for your entire trip.
  • Carry medicines in your hand luggage so that you have them with you even if your main baggage goes astray.
  • You can get a “medication passport” from your pharmacy. This document lists all your medications and will make it much easier for you to get medicine whilst abroad in the event that you lose what you have or discover that you do not have enough.
  • Do remember that not all drugs purchased abroad are reliable and some may even be unsafe. It is much better to take your own medicine with you and not to buy any whilst abroad since you cannot know for sure what it is you are getting.

Medical Travel Kit

It is wise to take a medical travel kit with you so that you are well prepared during your trip abroad. Not all first aid items and basic medicines are easily available in every country. Consider taking the following:

  • A standard first aid kit
  • Painkillers (e.g. paracetamol or aspirin)
  • An anti-diarrhoea drug for short-term use
  • ORS (oral rehydration salts) for replenishing salt and fluids after suffering from diarrhoea
  • Anti-malaria tablets (if appropriate)
  • Sunscreen
  • Disinfectant (e.g. iodine)
  • Sterile injection equipment
  • Condoms
  • Travel sickness tablets
  • Antibiotics

During the trip

You can avoid a lot of problems and inconvenience by taking appropriate precautions whilst abroad. Matters of hygiene can be neglected in some countries. It is therefore important to pay attention to the following below.

Personal hygiene

Infectious diseases are mainly spread as a result of poor hygiene.

The most important rules are the simplest: always wash your hands after using the toilet and before preparing food or eating.  Make sure you have antibacterial hand soap and/or gel with you as well as clean, dry towels. Your body will also be exposed to external risks. Do not walk barefoot in long grass. We also recommend wearing clothes that cover the entire body and that you do not swim in stagnant or slow-moving water.


The most common health problems experienced by travellers are diarrhoea and intestinal infections. In most cases, contaminated food, drinking water and beverages are the cause.

The most important things you can do to avoid infection are:

  • do not eat cooked food that has been stored for several hours at room temperature;
  • only eat food that is thoroughly cooked and still warm, or raw fruit and vegetables that have not already been peeled and are not damaged;
  • do not buy food from street vendors;
  • do not eat ice cream if you do not know its origin;
  • ask locals which fish are safe and which could be poisonous;
  • boil unpasteurised milk before use;
  • if you are in any doubt as to the quality of the drinking water be sure to boil it before use;
  • do not have ice cubes in your drinks: they are often made from water which is not drinking water;
  • brush your teeth using safe (bottled) water;
  • only drink bottled water if the seal has not been broken or if the bottles are sealed with a metal cap/crown;
  • try to choose hot drinks because they tend to be safer.

The standards of hygiene practised by locals when preparing food are a good indication of whether or not it is safe to eat and drink there. The risks of getting an infection or diarrhoea are much higher in a country where hygiene standards are low. Poor infrastructure and poor quality tap water contribute to the level of risk. In countries where such conditions exist it is advisable to take extra precautions when it comes to hygiene - even in expensive hotels and restaurants.

Hepatitis A and E, cholera, giardia and typhoid are all diseases which are spread through contaminated drinking water. In addition, various viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause traveller's diarrhoea. Eighty per cent of the people who travel to areas where the water is contaminated are affected. Toxins in seafood and fish are also well known causes of intestinal disorders.

Bathing, showering and swimming

Please note that water used for bathing, showering or swimming is not always safe. It can be contaminated with bacteria and viruses which cause intestinal infections. You should always ask about the quality of the swimming water in advance and avoid locations near to where sewage is discharged. Always try not to swallow water when swimming or bathing.

Infectious diseases

Various infectious diseases are commonly experienced by people who travel to less developed countries. It is important to be aware that you could be affected by one of these infections if you are visiting such countries. You can learn more about specific diseases from the Diseases section of our website.

Insects and animals

When travelling to a sub tropical country you run the risk of contracting one of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. These include malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever. You may also be exposed to the risk of infection from ticks which transmit diseases such as tick-borne encephalitis. Some of these diseases can develop rapidly and become very serious. Anyone travelling to a (sub) tropical country should take the following precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes or ticks:

  • wear clothing that covers the entire body (long trousers, long sleeves, shoes and socks). This is particularly important in the evening and at night.
  • apply an insect repellent containing DEET to all exposed skin. Products containing DEET are also safe for pregnant women and children. A concentration of 30% DEET is usually sufficient. Do not apply the product to the hands of babies or small children as they tend to suck their fingers which would be unsafe.
  • make sure you are sleeping in a mosquito-free room or under an undamaged mosquito net which has been impregnated with mosquito repellent. This is especially important for children and pregnant women. If there is air-conditioning: use it.
  • you can take anti-malaria tablets during and after travel to an area where there is a high-risk of malaria. Your doctor can give you a prescription.

Animals can also transmit diseases, be poisonous or trigger allergic reactions. Rabies is common amongst wild animals in many countries and can sometimes be found in domestic animals as well. Mammals can transmit viruses through bites or scratches. To prevent this happening try to remember the following:

  • avoid any unnecessary contact with animals. Do not pet or tease them.
  • if you are bitten or scratched by an animal contact a doctor immediately if possible and certainly within 24 hours.

There are a series of rabies vaccinations available. Consult your doctor.

The list of poisonous animals includes certain kinds of jellyfish, spiders, scorpions and snakes. It is not possible to be vaccinated against their poisons, but antidotes are often available. If you are bitten or stung by a poisonous animal you should go directly to the nearest doctor, hospital or medical clinic.

Some helpful tips for avoiding such incidents are:

  • listen to advice from local people, or people with experience of travelling in the area;
  • avoid places where dangerous animals have been seen;
  • wear boots or closed-shoes in areas where snakes are common;
  • if you are staying in an area where snakes or scorpions are known to be common, take your boots/shoes indoors at night and check inside your shoes before putting them on again;

Contact a doctor immediately if you have been, or suspect you may have been, bitten or stung by a poisonous animal.

Illnesses on return from abroad

Someone returning from a trip to a (sub) tropical country may have health problems resulting from their trip or stay abroad.


For some diseases, treatment in a specialised hospital or clinic is needed, however most complaints can be treated by your own doctor. Your doctor can also refer the you for tests for tropical diseases. It is important, therefore, to inform your doctor about which countries you have visited, when you returned, which vaccinations you had and whether or not you have taken anti-malaria tablets.

In the case of persistent and/or severe symptoms, your doctor can refer you to a specialised tropical diseases clinic.


Blog author

Dr. Alex Louis Henry, MD

Chairman & Director
Protect Your Health While Traveling