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Travellers are strongly advised to take out overseas travel insurance from a reputable company before departing. It is easy to arrange this on-line - make sure you read and understand the dollar amount of the cover and the conditions. Travel insurance usually covers loss and theft of belongings, as well as health cover, including the cost of medical evacuation back to Australia or a comparable country in the event of serious illness or injury. Without insurance, this could cost you a very large amount of money. It is important to note that membership of a private health fund in Australia does not usually cover your medical expenses overseas.
Mosquito-borne diseases are common in most South East Asian countries, particularly during the Wet Season or 'Monsoon'. While many Territorians are aware of the need to protect against mosquito-borne diseases there are some serious infections prevalent in South East Asian countries which are not found at home.
- Malaria- Most prevalent in rural areas. Travellers are advised to take anti-malarial medications with them if they are intending to visit malarial hot-spots - see your GP for advice, as prescription medication may be needed.
- Dengue fever- Found in rural and urban areas. Dengue mosquitoes often breed in stagnant water near where people reside.
- Japanese encephalitis- Found primarily in rural areas particularly around domestic pigs and birds.
- Cover up with light-coloured clothing, especially at dawn and dusk as this is when mosquitoes are most prevalent. Dengue fever virus however is spread by daytime biters.
- Take a DEET-based mosquito repellent with you and re-apply often.
- Stay away from places where water has pooled in to puddles on the ground or is lying in vessels such as containers, drains or vegetation.
- If sleeping in a room with open windows ensure they have adequate screens, or sleep under mosquito netting.
If you start to display the following symptoms 3 - 15 days after receiving a mosquito bite seek medical attention:
- severe headache
- flu-like symptoms
- nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
- pain when moving your eyes
- lower back ache
- severe muscle aches
- very high temperature (above 40 degrees)
- pale pink rash on your face
Rabies is a deadly viral infection which can be transmitted by infected animals across South East Asia. It can be transmitted to humans from bites, scratches or licks to broken skin or the mouth or eyes. Travellers should not approach, stroke or pat dogs, cats, monkeys or other animals. It is not possible to tell from looking at an animal whether they may be infected and if contact does occur then you must seek medical attention immediately.
Any scratches or bites should be washed thoroughly and you must seek medical attention so that additional treatment can be given. Rabies is 100% fatal to humans.
Some people may have vaccinations against rabies before they travel but this must be discussed with your doctor (see Vaccination section below). Even if people have been vaccinated against rabies before travel, they MUST still seek urgent medical attention as further treatment is needed.
Diarrhoea and stomach upsets are commonly experienced by travellers when they are overseas, especially in South East Asian countries. Gastro-type illness can impact strongly on a holiday, and precautionary measures should be followed carefully.
Water - In most places in South East Asia the local water is unsafe to drink.
Bottled water is the ONLY option if you want to avoid traveller's diarrhoea.Travellers also need to be vigilant about the food they consume. Although you may be taking every precaution, don't expect the local restaurants, food vendors or street hawkers to be doing the same.
- Drink unbottled water
- Clean your teeth with tap water
- Open your mouth in the shower or pool
- Wash your food in tap water
- Eating pre-prepared cut fruit or salad
- Drinking pre-opened beverages
- Ice cubes in your drink
- Eat at restaurants that have lots of people dining. A full restaurant generally means the quality and hygiene of ingredients is more likely to be of a higher standard
- Take hand sanitiser and use it before eating or drinking and after using the toilet. Also after handling goods (including money) in markets and shops, and shaking hands.
- Use a straw. Avoid touching your lips to bottles or cans.
- Check the seal on your water bottle by tipping it upside down and giving it a squeeze. If water drips from the seal, put it back as it is potentially unsafe to drink.
Typhoid - Is an infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella. It is transmitted through contaminated food, water, ice, raw fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products and shellfish sourced from contaminated water.
- When planning your trip, it is important to remember to pack any medications you may need whilst you are away. Talk to your GP about your travel plans and what medications you need to take with you
- Contact the embassy of the country you plan to visit to ensure the medication is legal there
- Carry a letter from your doctor detailing the medication, what it is for and that it is for personal use
Keep the medication - whether prescribed or bought over the counter - in its original packaging, clearly labelled with your name and dosage instructions. Unlabelled packs could result in Customs or Police regarding the medications as illegal 'drugs'.
Prior to travel make time to talk to your GP or travel doctor about your planned destinations and discuss what specific travel vaccines or what booster doses of childhood vaccines you may need to protect you whilst you are away.
Community care centres do not provided travel vaccine advice or vaccination.
For further advice see smartraveller.gov.au
Herbal Medicine and Supplements
The practice of traditional and herbal medicine has been an integral part of the South East Asian culture for centuries. The roots of the practice lie in historical and cultural traditions, perhaps more than scientific evidence, and large numbers of local people believe in their effectiveness. Many, perhaps most, of these formulations are safe if used as advised, however various herbal medicines have been found to include lethal amounts of mercury, arsenic and lead. Severe allergic or toxic reactions can occur, especially when taken in conjunction with conventional medication. Additional side effects can include liver, renal and heart failure, stroke, seizures and in extreme circumstances death.
Moreover - according to the World Health Organisation - Asia accounts for the largest share of trade in counterfeit medications. Regardless of the similarities in packaging, the drugs contained are often a chemical concoction that can cause blood sugar levels to drop to a severe and dangerous level, and result in coma, stroke, brain damage, even death.
It is strongly recommended that travellers avoid taking any medication that was not purchased or prescribed by their doctor in Australia. It is also advised that travellers ensure they pack an adequate supply of their regular medications and a small first aid kit in their luggage.