At our travel health advisory call centre, we get calls from anxious people who've left it almost literally until the 'last minute' to check on the potential health risks of their overseas trip. In a perfect world, it's best to give yourself 6-8 weeks to arrange this important pre-travel consultation.
But, people make eleventh-hour decisions to travel abroad for lots of reasons, many of them unavoidable. They range from a sudden business meeting to urgent calls to visit a sick loved one, while some admit they were just so busy the departure date 'crept up on them'.
If that sounds like you or someone you know, you'll be happy to hear we never say "Sorry, you're too late."
Sometimes it still possible to have at least some of the recommended vaccinations, and it's NEVER too late to take the simple measures that will help you stay healthy overseas.
So, even if you have only days – or hours – before you leave, call us for no-obligation advice on 1300 360 164 (toll-free from landlines).
Here are some of the common questions we hear from last-minute travellers...
"It's too late for any shot, right?"
Receiving some of the more commonly recommended single-dose travel or routine vaccines, such as hepatitis A, typhoid, tetanus and polio, at the last minute will give you at least partial protection during your upcoming trip. Within 7 – 10 days following the shots, your body will develop protective antibodies to help you fight off the infection. In addition, these bacterial or viral diseases take time to reach the point where you develop symptoms and become ill, which also gives your fast-multiplying antibodies time to build up to 'fighting strength'.
Some vaccines like Hepatitis B and the combined Hepatitis A-B vaccine, which require multiple doses, can be given over shorter time frames than normally recommended, which may allow you to squeeze them in before you go. That said, rapid schedules are not ideal: They should be used only if there is very limited time before departure.
There are a couple of exceptions to last-minute vaccinations: Not so much in respect to how quickly it takes them to become effective, rather the regulations that surround them.
The first is the Yellow fever vaccine, which is required for travelling to endemic regions of Africa and South America, and for returning to yellow fever-free countries – such as Australia. The second is meningococcal vaccine, which is mandatory for Muslims seeking a visa to attend the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The proof-of-vaccination certificates required for each of these immunisations do not become valid until 10 days after the vaccine has been administered. In these situations, you may have no choice but to change your travel plans.
Finally, another good reason to at least start the immunisation process and complete it after you return is that most vaccines protect for extended periods, so they'll protect you during future trips.
"Should I see my own GP?"
Your family doctor may be able to assist you with last-minute travel, but chances are your regular medical practice does not have:
– Up-to-date information on disease outbreaks and seasonal risks at your destination.
– Detailed illness prevention advice.
– A country profile, including security advice.
– A stock of travel vaccines, or malaria or other medications for travel.
– Diarrhoea self-treatment, first-aid kits, treated bed nets, and other travel health accessories.
The medical professionals at Travelvax Australia clinics are experienced in travel medicine and have these things on hand to provide you with a one-stop service. They also know what endemic diseases are present at your destination and, just as importantly, what disease outbreaks are currently occurring or likely to occur at the time of year you're travelling.
Between them, your Travelvax doctor and nurse will interpret your medical history and offer detailed advice about what these disease risks mean for your specific trip – and how best to avoid them. Tailored, expert prevention advice really is invaluable for last-minute travel – especially when you consider that vaccines aren't available for every disease risk.
Among the most common potential health issues for travellers are the diseases transmitted by contaminated food and water. They include Hepatitis A and typhoid, which are common in many developing countries. Besides vaccinations, travellers who may not be fully immunised can help to avoid these and other food- and water-borne bugs by placing even more emphasis on sound personal hygiene – particularly cleaning your hands thoroughly after using the toilet and before eating – and choosing the safer food and beverage options. Of course, contaminated food and beverages can also cause traveller's diarrhoea – another reason to take special care with what you eat and drink.
"But, don't I have to start malaria tablets weeks ahead?"
There are various time frames for beginning anti-malaria medication, ranging from weeks to days before you first enter a malaria-infected area. It is not a simple matter of opting for one or another: the medication needs to be right for you personally and for the type of malaria found at your destination.
However, if medication to prevent malaria is recommended, your doctor may be able to recommend a drug with a short lead-up time so that you're protected against this potentially fatal disease. If you have just days before you fly out, you will also save time by being able to obtain your malaria medication during your Travelvax consultation, along with your shots.
However, what is most important is taking measures to avoid mosquito bites and you will receive lots of useful advice about the key times to be on guard against insects and how to avoid being bitten.
Unlike malaria, there are no pills (or vaccines) that protect against the debilitating dengue and Chikungunya viruses. The aggressive Aedes mosquitoes that spread these two diseases bite during the day – when you're out and about – rather than at night, as is the case with malaria-carrying mozzies.
"What should I take with me?"
There are some fundamental accessories EVERYONE travelling overseas should pack.
A FIRST-AID KIT – The first item in your carry-on bag should be a first-aid kit for treating the blisters, cuts and abrasions that can happen in transit and on arrival. Knowing how to use a first-aid kit is essential knowledge for every traveller – especially parents. Antibiotics for treating mild fevers are also advisable and your Travelvax doctor or GP can recommend medication that's right for you and your destination. Travelvax Australia offers a range of travel first-aid kits, which also contain medical sharps for emergencies.
A DIARRHOEA SELF-TREATMENT KIT – Medication for self-treating traveller's diarrhoea (TD) is also a 'must take'. Studies have repeatedly shown that between 20 -70% of western travellers staying for two weeks or more in a developing country will experience TD in some form. Your Travelvax doctor will advise you on what to include and when to take the various medications to treat TD should you develop symptoms. These can be carried in your first-aid kit or in a separate pack.
INSECT REPELLENT – Mozzies, flies, sand flies, midges, ticks... you name it, insects are part and parcel of travel. And, not just in tropical destinations where mosquito-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever and Chikungunya fever may be present. Lyme disease, a disease transmitted by ticks, and mosquito-borne West Nile fever are becoming more common in temperate areas of first-world regions like North America and parts of Europe. Make your first line of defense an insect repellent containing an effective active ingredient, such as DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Keep it handy on day trips and use it as directed on all bare skin – especially around dawn and sunset.
SUNSCREEN – You don't have to be sitting by a pool or at the beach to get sunburnt: It can happen just about anywhere outdoors, including ski fields. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going out and insect repellent just before you step outside. Carry both tubes with you so you can reapply them as necessary.
Giving yourself 6-8 weeks to arrange your travel health check-up is the ideal.
But, even at the 'last minute' a traveller can still do a great deal to protect their health with help from a professional experienced in travel medicine.
For more obligation-free advice on preparing for your next trip or to book a pre-travel medical consultation, call Travelvax Australia's free advisory service on 1300 360 164.