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Three Considerations to Undertake Before Gap Year Travels Commence

Gap years are a chance to experience life and the world before starting university life. Before setting off to climb Everest or volunteer in a developing country, you should consider the health risks involved in whatever the adventure is. Below is some advice that will hopefully caution your otherwise optimistic ideals.

Travel and Diseases

Plenty of countries around the world have diseases that you may not have been exposed to. Prior to departure, you would be advised to consider a trip to the doctor. Don’t leave it too late. Arrange the doctor’s appointment four to six weeks before you set off. Depending on where you go, you’ll need a variety of immunisations.

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Medication may not be readily available for particular conditions, and in certain areas, you are liable to counterfeit medicine. 75% of counterfeit medicine comes from India, 7% from Egypt and 6% from China. These medications will often be sold over the counter in a business believed to be worth £20 billion. As most British doctors will prescribe a maximum of 3 months worth of medication, should your trip be longer, you’ll need to go to a consultant or specialist, and as a result, may be able to get a six month supply. An alternative is getting medication sent to you in the foreign country by friends or family, but they’ll obviously need an address for you.

For the accident prone or frequently unfortunate, international health insurance is a good idea. It can end up saving you thousands, which is something most people on their gap years don’t have. Check your current insurance status and see what you require cover for.

Travel and Food

The food you eat in other countries, while a great way to experience a local culture and its culinary ways, may cause sickness. Obviously this could ruin an otherwise great trip, so there are some things to consider. Food should be freshly prepared and thoroughly cooked. It should also be washed before preparation. Some countries have tap water that can cause illness, and in these places, you should use bottled water for drinking, brushing teeth and washing food. Check before leaving if what type of water is available at your destination.

In India, you should be more careful than in most places with what you consume, as this is the country where you’re most likely to catch typhoid, a potentially fatal disease. It’s picked up as a result of bacteria that’s present in contaminated food and water.

Contaminated food and water can also cause hepatitis A. Specifically, food and water contaminated by faeces causes hepatitis A. If you do catch it, just hope that it was caused by the fact that the food was grown low to the ground or a crustacean that feeds from the seabed. The alternative is somewhat more disgusting.

Traveller’s diarrhoea could definitely ruin an otherwise perfectly good trip. In most cases, it’s caused by the bacteria E-coli, but it can be caused by salmonella, shigella and campylobacter. You can also get it from certain viruses, and occasionally from a parasite known as giardia. To treat giardia, if it doesn’t clear up itself within ten days, simply drink a solution of a litre of clean water, a teaspoon of salt and six level teaspoons of sugar.

Travel and Bites

Malaria is spread by mosquitoes and most common in Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America. There are anti-malaria pills that should be taken, but you should still avoid risking being bitten. Ways to do this include sleeping under a mosquito net and using mosquito repellent. The most effective mosquito repellents contain the ingredient DEET. Dengue fever is another disease spread by mosquitoes. This is common in Southeast Asia, South America and the Caribbean. Mosquitoes can bite through tight clothing, so long sleeved loose-fitting shirts and loose long trousers should be worn. This will also help avoid sunburn.

Bites can also spread rabies, but to catch rabies, you have to be bitten or scratched by something bigger than a mosquito. Most commonly, rabies is spread by dogs and bats, but other animals can become rabid too. The way to treat rabies is to wash the bitten or scratched area with soap, water and antiseptic iodine solution. Afterwards, you should go to a doctor who can immunise you against the disease. Hopefully you don’t have a phobia of needles as injections are a necessity.

In tropical sub-Saharan Africa and South America, yellow fever can be caused by the mosquito. Put simply, avoiding yellow fever is the same drill as avoiding dengue fever and malaria. Repellent that includes the chemical DEET, mosquito nets and covering up with loose-fitting clothes.

Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
Make sure you never burn.
Aim to cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
Remember to take extra care with children.
Then use factor 15+ sunscreen.

Use of repellents – The Health Protection Agency’s Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention in UK Travellers (ACMP) strongly recommends DEET-based insect repellents as these are the most effective.
Insecticide – These should be used to kill any resting mosquitoes in a room.
Use of nets – If sleeping outdoors or in unscreened accommodation, insecticide-treated mosquito nets should be used. Mosquito bed nets must be free of tears and should be tucked in under the mattress. Those that are impregnated with insecticide can provide extra protection.
Clothing – Where possible, cover up with long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing, long trousers and socks if outdoors after sunset to minimise accessibility to skin for biting mosquitoes. Cotton clothing can be sprayed with DEET.
Room protection – Air conditioning reduces the likelihood of mosquito bite as a result of substantial reduction in night time temperature. Ceiling fans can also reduce mosquito nuisance. Doors, windows and other possible mosquito entry routes to sleeping accommodation should be screened with fine mesh netting which must be close-fitting and free from tears.
Malaria prophylaxis – See your GP or travel health professional to get a prescription for anti-malaria tablets for full malaria prevention.

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