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Illness & Disease On Your Gap Year trip

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 14 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Illnesses Diseases Safety Health Travel

It's not fun to be ill when you are in the comfort of your own bed, being brought tea in your favourite mug, and chilling out with your own selection of DVDs. But it's even less fun to be ill when you are thousands of miles from home, unsure of where to even find a mug, and the only DVDs you have seen are badly dubbed and on the black market.

Coping with illnesses and diseases abroad is no joke, but with some basic knowledge you should be able to survive. Remember, the most important part of healthcare when abroad is recognising when you need professional help. Never leave an ache or a pain until you can no longer function. The sooner you seek help, the better it will be for everyone.

Prepare and Pack Carefully

Before any gap year trip, young travellers are highly advised to attend their local travel clinic or speak to their GP about travel vaccinations. Just a few of the diseases travellers should be aware of include: Cholera, diphtheria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, meningitis, polio, typhoid and yellow fever.But jabs and immunisations are not the only way to prepare to defeat illnesses while abroad. You should also get all of your medical certificates, prescriptions and insurance papers in order and fill in all of your prescriptions for the length of time you will be away. Tuck some hand sanitiser and wipes into your luggage and create a small medical kit, including:
  • Pain relievers
  • Decongestants
  • Antacids
  • Wound and blister ointments
  • Cough medicine
  • Anti-diarrhoeal medicine
  • Plasters
  • Motion-sickness medication
  • Digital thermometer

Minimise the Risks

Many illnesses and diseases picked up when travelling originate from unsanitary conditions.

Minimise your risks by being on your guard around; sewage, rubbish, street food, tap water, ice cubes or chips, vegetables/salads (that may have been rinsed in contaminated water), raw or uncooked seafood, blood and/or syringes, faeces, local animals and insects and stagnant or standing water

Eat Up

One way to ward of illnesses and diseases while you are abroad is to eat healthily. Look for fresh food or ingredients, rinse them in bottled water before preparation, and remember to boil any tap water before use.

Eating a well balanced diet will also help you to stay healthy, a good diet should include five portions of fruit and vegetables per day and also bread, cereal or potatoes several times per day. Drinking enough water is also essential in order to stay hydrated, so try to drink at least six glasses of water per day, you should also have 2 - 3 servings of milk or dairy per day which will provide you with the calcium you need.

Meat, chicken and/or fish should be included in your diet several times per week, this will provide you with a range of nutrients to keep your body fit and healthy. Try to eat few fatty or sugary foods or drinks, although our bodies do need some fats and sugars to many will only damage our health.

In the Event of Illness

If, even after your careful planning and preventative measures, you are still taken ill while abroad, do not panic. Instead:
  • Record your symptoms and when they first started.
  • Check with other travellers about their health. (Could it be food poisoning? Is a virus being passed around?)
  • Take your temperature at regular intervals.
  • Break into your medical kit.
  • Notify your supervisor or group leader.
  • Ask to be taken to/visited by an English speaking nurse or doctor.
  • If in doubt, call emergency services.
An illness or disease is one souvenir from your gap year that you will want to avoid. With the proper preparations and preventative measures, this may be possible. However, illnesses and diseases may strike at any time so make sure you have planned for this eventually and never be afraid to ask for help. Good luck!

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