Dr. Phelan By General Practitioner Published:

It’s the time of year when many people’s thoughts start turning to their holidays and patients ask me about health precautions they should take before travelling.

Concerns about the spread of the Zika virus – blamed for a range of birth defects – have dominated the headlines, but there are other conditions that need consideration too.

Travel health tips: Seven things you need to know

Deep vein thrombosis

Travelling long distances, either by road or air, has been linked to an increased risk of developing a blood clot in the leg, also known as a deep vein thrombosis or DVT. This is particularly true if you have an underlying health condition that may place you at a higher risk of blood clots.
For many DVT’s, the treatment can be straightforward, but they can have potentially serious health consequences such as developing a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism).
Flight socks can be bought in many shops and have been shown to reduce the risk of blood clots. For higher risk patients, your GP may prescribe a blood-thinning medication. Keeping mobile and hydrated will help to significantly reduce your risk of blood clots.


Air travel can lead to dehydration so it’s important to try and drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids during the flight. Remember too that the impact of alcohol may be heightened when you are flying.

Food and Drink

We’ve all heard about the horrors of a holiday tummy. Ensuring that you only eat food that is cooked to order and piping hot can help. It is also sensible to avoid eating unwashed fruit or vegetables and salads.
If you are planning to travel off the beaten track where access to medicines might be tricky, you might be able to obtain a short supply of antibiotics for your use if you do develop diarrhoea whilst away. In addition, packing a supply of anti-diarrhoea tablets and rehydration salts can help to settle an upset stomach.
When you reach your destination, it is important to consider the safety of the water you are drinking. I advise patients that if they are worried about water quality, they should aim to drink water that has been filtered, boiled, chemically treated or served in a sealed bottle, and to avoid ice and iced drinks.


Still one of the world’s biggest killers, malaria is a parasitic disease spread through the bites of mosquitoes and is present in many tropical regions of the world. If you are travelling to places with malaria, it is essential that you take action to avoid bites and infection such as using insect repellents and mosquito nets. There are a number of prescription medicines that can be used to prevent infection with malaria, depending on where you are travelling. The Pharmacy2U Online Doctor Service offers additional advice and online consultations for malaria.


Exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to sunburn, cause premature signs of ageing to the skin and increase the risk of skin cancers. Be sure to cover up wherever possible, take extra care with children, and use high factor sun cream to avoid skin damage. Pharmacy2U stocks a range of suncare products.

Travel Insurance

When travelling outside the UK, it is crucial patients have valid travel insurance and ensure it covers any pre-existing conditions. For travel within the European Union, a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is also needed. Many countries have a fee-paying health care system and being without insurance in your time of need can be both distressing and costly.


People planning trips to certain parts of the world are advised to be vaccinated against a range of infectious diseases. Most need to be given ahead of time, often at least 4-6 weeks before you travel, so do try to plan ahead. Most GP surgeries offer a travel clinic service where you can discuss what you might need.

Being well prepared before your trip can help to make your well-deserved holiday go that bit smoother.

More information about travel vaccinations is available here.

Fit for Travel is an NHS website providing the latest travel advice.