When making travel plans, COVID-19 shouldn't be the only health concern you prepare for.​

“It’s natural that everyone starts travelling again given that many have put it off since the COVID-19 pandemic started,” shares Dr Limin Wijaya, Senior Consultant from the Department of Infectious Diseases at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

"We all do not want to be sick whilst travelling nor on return back home. This will include avoiding falling sick with COVID-19 illness. Hence whilst overseas, continuing to practice hand hygiene through cleaning your hands often with soap and water, and have an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with you will be important. Other steps which can be done include to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth."

“However, apart from knowing about the COVID requirements of the country that you plan to visit, there are other equally important health considerations to keep in mind as well”, she added.

8 Health concerns to consider before travelling

While COVID-19 is at the top of mind, don’t forget other diseases such as food-borne illnesses and infectious diseases still continue to pose a danger when you travel. That is why you need to ask yourself the following:

1. When should I see my family doctor before my trip?

You should visit a doctor at least four to six weeks before your departure date. “It is important to plan in advance as certain vaccinations require double or triple doses spread over a month to become effective,” explains Dr Wijaya.

In addition, consulting early allows for contingency planning or a change in itinerary if required.

2. Have I done research on the destination to find out about other potential health hazards?

Some developing countries are riskier than others and may require more medications or vaccinations to prevent health problems. The same country can represent different risks depending on the season. For instance, the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses increases during the monsoon.

Dr Wijaya suggests, “You can look up websites like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or World Health Organization to get reports of disease outbreaks and up-to-date information about health-related issues.”

Other requirement from Singapore Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) is the yellow fever certification requirements. A valid yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if you are travelling to countries with risk of yellow fever transmission in whole or in part in the six days prior to arrival to Singapore. The list of countries are available on the ICA webpage.

At the same time, you should research where you could get medical help at your destination should the need arise.

3. What activities will I be engaging in when overseas?

A rugged, outdoors-bound backpacker will not face the same risks as a business traveller. Discuss your proposed trip activities with your doctor.

Dr Wijaya explains, “For instance, if you have a pre-existing heart problem and are intending to trek in Tibet, you should check whether travelling at a high altitude is advisable for you.”

4. Have I got my vaccinations?

We will all be attuned to check the COVID-19 requirements of the receiving country prior to travel. This will include obtaining the necessary vaccines, documentations or testing to meet the requirements of the countries.

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccines, have you taken your other vaccines?

If you are travelling to developing countries like India or South America, you can consider vaccines against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rabies and typhoid.

Always keep a record of your vaccinations in case you need to show proof at your destination. For instance, certification of yellow fever vaccination is required by some countries in Africa and South America.

In malaria-endemic locales, anti-malarial pills are a must.

It is also good to ensure that all your other vaccinations are up-to-date and check in with your doctor if there are ongoing outbreaks in the other countries.

5. Have I packed all the medications that I need for my pre-existing health condition?

If you have a pre-existing condition like diabetes or heart disease, ask your doctor for sufficient medications to pack for your trip.

Dr Wijaya advises, “If possible, bring more than enough medications to buffer for any unexpected delays. Also bring an extra prescription for refills, as well as a written list of your medications, including both the trade name (such as Prandin) and actual name (like repaglinide) of each medication.”

If you need to pack syringes and needles, be sure to get a doctor’s letter and bring it along.

6. Did I remember to prepare a first aid kit?

Pack a suitable first aid kit before you set off. “A travel health kit should be tailored to your personal needs, type of travel, length of travel and destination,” explains Dr Wijaya.

Basics include essentials like anti-diarrhoea pills, plasters, antiseptic cream, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. If you are travelling to a rural area, far from a health care facility, do pack bandages and splints too.

In addition, consulting early allows for contingency planning or a change in itinerary if required.

7. Have I unwittingly packed medications that are illegal in certain countries?

The list of illicit drugs can be broader than you think. “This includes opioids, such as codeine-based medications or some cough mixtures,” explains Dr Wijaya. “If the medications are part of a prescription, get a doctor’s letter as proof.”

All prescriptive drugs should also be kept in their original container, with the original labels detailing your name and the doctor’s name.

8. Have I bought travel insurance?

Even if you are well prepared and travel with caution, illness or injury can occur, no matter the length of the trip. That’s when travel insurance comes in handy.

“A good travel insurance company will be able to assist in case of an accident or sudden illness overseas,” explains Dr Wijaya. Should you need to return urgently to Singapore for treatment, a good insurance can help with the repatriation cost.

Make sure that the travel insurance policy provides medical assistance by phone, 24 hours, seven days a week.

Could use more advice on how to prepare health-wise for travel abroad?

Visit the SGH Travel Clinic. The clinic is run by specialists from the Department of Infectious Diseases, with a team of doctors and nurses able to offer comprehensive travel advice and country-specific recommendations prior to your trip. The clinic is also a designated Yellow Fever Centre.

Ref: J22

Check out more health and travel articles:

Healthy Travel Tips for Seniors

Travel Health Checklist for Exotic Destinations

Guide to Travelling with Diabetes

Travel Vaccines and 5 Things to Do Before Travelling