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Staying healthy on holiday

How to avoid bugs

Chances are that nothing makes you happier than the thought of escaping Britain's dreary grey skies for a break in sunnier climes. Unfortunately, many of us forget that visiting an exotic destination carries with it a host of health-related risks. Tropical countries, in particular, can be a hotbed for infectious diseases, so before you jet off be sure to follow Cheapflights' advice.

Preparing for your trip

Get vaccinated

Your top priority should be finding out which vaccinations you need, and thanks to the National Travel Health Network and Centre this couldn't be simpler. Select the country you're travelling to and take note of the recommended vaccines. Similar guides are also available on the websites of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and America's CDC.

The best time to see your GP is four-to-six weeks before your departure date, as some vaccines take weeks to strengthen your immune system. Typhoid, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies are the most common vaccinations you will need – but other preventative measures such as Malaria tablets or Tetanus boosters may also be recommended.

Discuss existing conditions

Though drop-in immunisation centres are available in many British cities, talking to your GP is always preferable. This is particularly so for people who have a pre-existing medical condition; are pregnant (see our pregnancy travel tip); have a history of blood disorders; or have recently had surgery. All these conditions can leave you more vulnerable to an infection, so be sure to discuss them with your doctor.

Take out financial protection

Short-haul travellers should make sure they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which entitles holders to state-provided healthcare in all European Union countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. With this card, you'll receive the same quality of care as local residents, although you may have to contribute to the cost of treatment. It isn't an alternative to travel insurance, which you should purchase no matter where you're holidaying. Visit the EHIC website to apply for a card.

While you're abroad

Monitor new outbreaks

In the age of frequent air travel, isolated outbreaks can quickly turn into a full-blown pandemic. Swine Flu and other nasties all spread around the world at an alarming pace, so monitoring the latest developments has never been more crucial.

Happily, it's also never been easier. The CDC Travel Notices website offers up-to-the-minute breaking news about diseases ranging from Swine Flu to Measles, and it even features a handy RSS feed. Two other useful resources are the WHO's Disease Outbreak News page and, an independent public health news aggregator. For people planning a longer stay abroad, registering with the Foreign Office (FCO) for country email alerts is another good move.

Catch your sneezes

Outbreaks of influenza always get extensive press coverage, even though they tend to infect fewer people than diseases like Malaria. Preventative measures largely boil down to common sense, but are still worth reviewing.

When you sneeze or cough be sure to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, which you should then dispose of. Never sneeze into your hands, as germs can then spread to anyone you touch, and if you don't have a tissue then cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve. Washing your hands regularly – either with soap, or an alcohol-based sanitiser – is also recommended.

Be a fussy eater

We've all experienced the discomfort of having an upset stomach while on holiday, but in extreme cases the fall-out can be far more severe. Cholera, Typhoid and Hepatitis A can all be contracted from contaminated food or water, which makes sanitation a top priority for your trip.

Under-cooked and raw foods present the highest risk, so be extra vigilant when buying or preparing your meals. Only eat fruits that have been washed thoroughly, and watch out for unpasteurised dairy products or cooked food that has been left to cool down. As water quality varies hugely between countries, you should avoid ice cubes and only ever drink from unopened canned or bottled beverages. Check the FCO's country-specific guide for more useful pointers.

Ward off the bugs

If you're headed somewhere hot, the presence of mosquitoes is all but guaranteed. As well as goading you with bites, these pesky bugs can carry a host of serious diseases ranging from Malaria to Encephalitis and West Nile Fever – definitely not souvenirs you'll want to return home with.

Your first line of defence is avoiding hotspots. Mosquitoes breed in still bodies of water and are most active at dusk and dawn, so taking an early evening stroll by the local lake is a definite no-no. More robust protection comes in the form of roll-on insect repellent – a rule of thumb being that the more it stinks, the better it works. Sleeping under a bed-net is also a great idea.

When you get back

Don't assume you're out of the woods yet as illnesses can linger in the body for days before symptoms appear. You should call your GP straight away if you feel unwell, making sure to tell the receptionist you've been abroad before attending surgery. Anyone who's been taking oral medication – such as Malaria tablets or anti-viral drugs – must also make sure they complete their full course, even after returning home (see our travel tip).

Updated May 2014

Oonagh Shiel
Content Manager at Cheapflights whose travel life can be best summed up as BC (before children) and PC (post children). We only travel during the school holidays so short-haul trips and staycations are our specialities!