Staying healthy on your next big holiday

Setting off for an overseas adventure? Great! But don’t put your health at risk. Dr Tony Gherardin is the National Medical Advisor for the Travel Doctor and shares some really useful tips for protecting yourself when you are travelling.

Overseas tourism for the over 60s is booming – they have the time, the discretionary income, and inclination to travel. A 2012 report by National Seniors Australia and the leading senior’s advocacy body, COTA, found that older Australians are frequent travellers, particularly to overseas destinations. What’s more, it states that they are travelling and expecting to continue to travel well into their 80s and 90s.

But while overseas adventure seems to be top of mind for many senior Australians, one aspect of travel that does not appear to be, is protection against harmful and potentially fatal vaccine-preventable diseases. New research by Sanofi Pasteur shows that the number of Aussie travellers who have skipped the appropriate vaccinations before travelling to international destinations with high risk of disease has jumped to 2.8 million people in the past five years.

This is a 100 per cent increase since 2006! As a result, there has been a spike in cases of diseases such as typhoid, an extremely serious, life threatening disease that is easily prevented with a vaccine. The Australian Government National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System shows that over the last six years, incidents of typhoid have risen from on average 50 cases each year, to 134 notified cases in 2011.

Skipping the appropriate vaccinations before travel is a taking a serious health risk for people over the age of 60. Some disease, like hepatitis-A, are more severe in older patients, and acquisition in late life can be potentially fatal. Older Australians are also more likely to have co-existing illness and medications, some of which may be not easily available overseas, so again careful proper preparation is vital.

Ad. Article continues below.

Some of the most popular travel destinations that pose a heightened risk for travellers include nearby South East Asia including China, Thailand, India, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. These countries’ exotic cultures, foods and environments would appeal to any adventurer, but remember that travel in these areas increase your risk of contracting common travel diseases like typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, yellow fever, hepatitis A and rabies. If you’re not sure what you’re up against in your chosen destination, an online resource,, provides an interactive map that will tell you what diseases are most prevalent at any travel destination worldwide and what vaccinations are therefore required.

Fortunately, protecting yourself from these diseases is straight forward. It simply requires a visit to your local travel doctor four to six weeks prior to your departure. Also, to help you plan your next overseas adventure, I have prepared the following tips:

  • Remember that vaccines do not necessarily cover you for life. Check with your travel doctor to see whether you are due for a booster shot.
  • If you intend to travel to rural or village areas, be sure to inform your travel doctor. You are more likely to come across poor sanitation, mosquitoes and street foods with a heightened risk of disease, and less likely to come across clean drinking water!
  • Are you visiting friends and relatives overseas, or your home country? Please don’t assume you are immune to the local diseases! Visit your travel doctor to be sure you are protected.

For more information about making better travel health choices, speak to your doctor.