Precautions When Traveling Abroad

Article written by International Health Insurance Danmark’s Specialist Lene Hoj called “Precautions When Traveling and Living Abroad.” More articles on similar subjects at

From a health point of view, traveler’s problems are common and for the most due to accidents or infectious diseases. Some are fatal, many are dangerous and can cause side-effects as well as the risk of infection to other family members and acquaintances upon return home. Prevention is effective and practically speaking always possible and, therefore, advisable with regard to reducing these risks. The principles are built on our knowledge of infectious diseases and are not impossible or difficult.

Food and Drink

Food and drink are the most common sources of infection, for example diarrhea, cholera, dysentery and parasitic diseases such as viral hepatitis, typhus and paratyphus. All uncooked foods can be the cause of infection. Salad, raw vegetables and thin-skinned fruits should also be avoided. The same rules apply to partially-cooked or uncooked fish, meat or shellfish. Shellfish should be strongly boiled for 10 minutes for safety reasons. It is strongly advisable to avoid drinking water which has not been boiled, and using ice-cubes which have been made from water which has not been boiled. Water can be rendered drinkable by the addition of 5 drops of 2% iodine to 1 liter of water, following which it should be decanted. If one contracts diarrhea, it is recommended to intake a lot of fluids such as soup, weak fruit juices, as well as salt and sugar.


Insects transmit various illnesses, such as malaria, yellow fever, African sleeping sickness, plettyfus (typhus exanthematicus), river blindness and meningitis. Bites or stings can be uncomfortable – and even dangerous (scorpions and spiders, for example).

It is wise to wear reasonably thick and protective clothing outdoors after sunset, and one should avoid dark colours as these attract mosquitoes. Use an insect repellent on uncovered / bare skin (DEET or Dimethyphtalet). Sleep in a well-closed room. Kill any mosquitoes indoor with an insect spray. Use a mosquito net – and this can be impregnated with an insect repellent. If possible, sleep above 1st floor level. In the Mediterranean and in Central East Africa one should avoid direct contact with strange dogs as fleas who live by sucking the animals’ blood can transmit Mediterranean Fever to humans if bitten (Fièvre Boutonneuse). For the same reason, one should get rid of fleas in one’s own dog!


Generally, animals avoid people. And it is a good rule not to initiate contact with animals, especially animals with young, and avoid touching dogs, cats and foxes in rabid areas, as well as monkeys, jackals and bats. In areas with the tropical bleeding fever, contact with rodents should be absolutely avoided.

Sexually-transmitted diseases

Sexually-transmitted diseases are, treatment-wise, often more problematic because of the bacteria’s resistance-development towards the normally used antibiotics such as penicillin. It is furthermore well documented that HIV infection, which develops into AIDS, is also transmitted via both homosexual and heterosexual contact. This disease is still incurable. Nor is there a single treatment which is effective in preventing this illness and there is no vaccination available. The risk of infection can to a large degree be reduced by avoiding “casual” contacts especially with prostitutes in cities in the Far East, Central Africa and persons with numerous contacts. Contact with biological fluids such as semen and blood should be avoided, and the use of condoms for men, together with the use of contraceptive creams by women, can give some protection.

Climatic Conditions

Climatic conditions such as extreme heat or cold and high humidity influence mostly older people and children in the form of relatively mild skin rashes, fungal infections and heat stroke. Inhalation of dust can reduce the resistance to infections in the air passage, and can cause nausea and a feeling of sickness. While residing in fresh water areas in the tropics, there is a risk of snail fever and fatal bacterial brain infection has been seen to occur in certain areas while swimming in warm “untreated” swimming pools. In recent years, there has been a major outbreak of pneumonia and legionnaires disease, often via air-conditioning systems, and shower / bath installations. The addition of chlorine to the water has proved helpful. Traveling in and living at high altitudes can induce sleeping problems and cause discomfort, especially to persons with heart or lung diseases.

The medicine cabinet

The medicine cabinet should if possible be equipped with malaria preventive medicine, antihistamine, sleeping pills, anti-itch preparation, Paracetamol as a pain killer, a syringe for poison extraction, hormone cream for itchy rashes, diarrhea medicine such as opium drops and Imodium. Nose drops when flying, especially for children and other “victims”. Also insect repellent and sun protection cream. Iodine or chlorhexidin for abrasions and sores, and specific antibiotics for travel under primitive conditions.

Upon returning home

Upon returning home, within the first 2 months one should always without exception contact a doctor on the slightest suspicion of malaria. The benign types can show up to 10 – 12 years after infection, and can be completely cured. The faeces should be examined for bacteria and other parasites. Always inform your doctor of previous trips abroad.

As precautions when traveling, including vaccinations and medicaments, are fundamentally based on common sense, and therefore following the logical principles can at a stretch be self-sufficient. Furthermore, if one has taken out a medical insurance for financial security, the information given here on the risks and dangers should not deter one from experiencing the enormous advantages and pleasures of traveling!