Be prepared for medical emergencies when on the road, writes Jane Jeffries.

Getting sick when travelling is something no one wants to think about. It can ruin a holiday and can be expensive without adequate medical insurance.

So how well prepared are you, especially when travelling to developing countries, such as the Pacific Islands, South East Asia, India, China, Eastern Europe and parts of Africa?

Julie Rochfort, travel nurse at the Mana Medical Centre in Porirua, says it's all about eliminating risk.

"Travellers need to know what could go wrong, assess the risk and make a considered choice about the precautions available to them."


Depending on the destination there could be a disease epidemic or inadequate treatment facilities for diseases such as rabies.

When Rochfort consults with a traveller she asks where they're going, for how long, the types of activities they'll be doing, their level of fitness and their medical history as everyone's situation and travel plans are different. She then makes an assessment and explains the options.

"The most common ailment when travelling in developing countries is traveller's diarrhoea," says Rochfort.

"More than 40 per cent of people travelling in developing countries gets diarrhoea, usually caused by E. coli bacteria which can be treated with antibiotics. It's different from getting diarrhoea in developed countries, which is usually viral and best treated with paracetamol and fluids."

Rabies is contracted from the saliva of a rabid dog or animal and is proliferating in many countries, including Bali where more than 140 people have died since 2008. If not treated before symptoms appear, the disease is fatal, says medical director of Worldwise Dr Marc Shaw.

"Without previously having had a rabies vaccination it is critical to receive treatment within 24-48 hours of an animal bite, but in many developing countries there are no treatment centres and the drugs can be counterfeit. Evacuation may be the only option for reliable, safe treatment," says Shaw.

With the popularity of high altitude destinations such as Nepal, parts of South America and Africa comes altitude sickness. Medication is available but it is best to let the body adjust to the altitude gradually. More than 40 per cent of people trying to summit Mt Kilimanjaro fail because of altitude sickness.

Malaria and dengue fever, easily transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito, are also common in tropical climates. Medical precautions should be taken as well as an effective insect repellent. Travel medicine and the preventative measures to eliminate these medical risks, are not subsidised by the Government, so it is expensive, Shaw says.


"Whether it's a rabies vaccination or malaria tablets it needs to be factored into the cost of any travel plans."

There are other medical problems that can arise when travelling.

"Ailments such as respiratory problems, skin infections and fevers are among some of the most common illnesses and a simple medical kit with bandages, throat lozenges, paracetamol and a broad spectrum antibiotic can help many of these complaints," says Shaw. However, it is important to be well briefed on when to use the medication and for what symptoms.