Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How to have a safe vacation


Holidaymakers can still enjoy themselves if they take safety precautions

EVELINE GAN, eveline@mediacorp.com.sg

YOU'VE been planning your family vacation for months. You may have even elbowed your way through the massive crowds to get the best deals at the last travel fair, or bought new suitcases for your family trip.

With influenza A (H1N1) showing no signs of letting up, should you or should you not forgo your pre-planned overseas vacation this June holidays?

As at May 29, 53 countries reported over 15,000 confirmed cases of the infection. The virus has also reached our shores: Yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed that there were seven cases.

Although MOH has not recommended any travel restrictions, it advises Singaporeans to avoid non-essential travel to "affected areas". Affected areas — namely Mexico, the United States and Canada — are where there is a high degree of community spread of H1N1.


Given the unpredictability of the current H1N1 situation, Dr Robert Allen, International SOS' regional medical director of North Asia, said choosing locations that have very little or no impact from H1N1 would seem wise. International SOS is a medical and emergency services provider.

Added Dr Allen: "In addition, holidays that allow for some social distancing and in areas where access to medical care is not difficult may be prudent."

According to Dr Chng Shih Kiat, deputy medical director of Raffles Medical Group, holidaymakers should take extra care when travelling to countries in the Southern Hemisphere — such as Australia and New Zealand — this June holidays.

Even though they do not fall under the list of "affected areas", countries in the Southern Hemisphere will be experiencing winter, a season which may see a surge of influenza activity, Dr Chng explained.

For families who are going ahead with their vacation plans, commonsense safety precautions should be taken prior to and during the trip.


See a doctor and update your shots and medication at least two weeks prior to departure, according to a spokesperson from National University Hospital's Wellness Centre.

"Remember that underlying health conditions increase the risk of influenza infection," warned Dr Allen. Prior to departure, consult your doctor if you suffer from any chronic diseases. These include asthma, any cardiovascular disease, diabetes or a weakened immune system caused by medication or HIV.

Dr Chng advised families who are travelling to countries in the Southern Hemisphere to consider getting their influenza shots.

"Influenza vaccination is advisable for everyone, except babies under six months, pregnant women in their first trimester and those with a history of egg allergy or allergy to previous influenza vaccination," he said.

But be sure to get your flu shot at least one week prior to your trip. "This will allow the body to react to the vaccine and produce enough immunity against the virus," explained Dr Chng.

According to the spokesperson from NUH's Wellness Centre, Hep B and A, typhoid, polio, and tetanus vaccinations are generally advised for those travelling to most countries.

There are also countries which require specific vaccinations.

For instance, meningococcal vaccination is mandatory for pilgrims on the Hajj to Mecca, and recommended for those spending a month or more in Saudi Arabia.

Japanese B and Yellow Fever vaccinations, which require a doctor's consultation prior to vaccination, are recommended for those going to the rural areas of Thailand, Africa and India.


While packing for your trip, squeeze in a travel medical kit.

Your kit should include bandages, plasters, cotton buds, gloves, alcohol swabs, sterile gauze, safety pins, small forceps for picking out foreign objects from wounds, scissors, and antiseptic wash and cream.

In view of the recent flu epidemic, travellers are advised to bring along surgical masks or N95 masks in case of an outbreak, and thermometers. Hand sanitisers and antiseptic wipes are also handy — they allow for frequent cleaning of hands when handwashing is not convenient.

When choosing sanitisers, opt for those which have a high concentration of alcohol(which means at least 70 per cent), said Dr Allen.

Dr Allen also recommended packing an ample quantity of your prescription medication, along with a doctor's letter, as well as over-the-counter medication for common ailments.


Limit spending time in crowded areas where influenza is easily spread, said Dr Allen.

This is advice that Charles Wee, 47, intends to stick to during his family vacation with his large extended family to Kota Kinabalu this weekend.

"We'll be hanging out mostly by the beach and resort area, and avoiding confined areas. So, I'm not too worried about H1N1. I'll also be bringing lots of Vitamin C supplements to keep my family's immune system up," he said.

While having fun, keeping healthy during your holiday is also important. This includes loading up on Vitamin C-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and drinking 1.5 to 2 litres of fluids each day.

"Excessive alcohol and smoking should be avoided as they may reduce your body's immunity," said Dr Chng.

Bookmark these websites

Get the latest updates on H1N1 and its geographical spread before you make your travel decision.




You can get pre-travel counselling at these places. Or you may want to check with your GP.

National University Hospital - Call the Wellness Centre at 6772 4462 or email wellness@nuh.com.sg.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital - call the Travellers' Health & Vaccination Clinic at 6357 2222 or email HEC@ttsh.com.sg

Changi General Hospital - call the Medical Centre for International Travellers at 6850 3685/ 6850 3333.

Raffles Medical Clinics - call the hotline at 6311 1111.

From TODAY, Health – Tuesday, 02-Jun-2009

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