Health risks are generally similar to those experienced in Australia, however there are a few issues listed below that travellers to Western European countries should be aware of. The following information provides some broad and general guidelines about health risks and recommendations for travel to Western Europe. This should not be taken as a substitute for a personal consultation with one of our travel health doctors, whose advice will be specific for you and your trip and may include some things not mentioned here.
Most Common Health Issues
Fitness to travel
Increasing numbers of elderly Australians are travelling to Europe, primarily due to cheap airfares, heavy marketing of package tours, or to visit friends and relatives. Many will have multiple medical conditions. If so check with your doctor you are fit for the rigors of long haul travel, airport crowds, steps and cobblestones etc. Think about how you would cope with a deterioration in your medical condition, sudden unexpected medical events or extremes of weather. Carry sufficient medication in original packaging with a doctor’s letter outlining your medical history and listing current medications. Take out adequate travel insurance as most Western European countries don’t have reciprocal healthcare arrangements with Australia.
Many travellers to Europe will pick up a head cold, cough, or if unlucky the flu (characterised by sudden onset of high fevers, aches, severe lethargy and a nasty cough). Coming from Australia probably increases the risk due to exposure to new viruses in crowded spaces (airports, planes and popular tourist destinations) and the effects of long haul travel on the immune system. To reduce the risk of contracting a respiratory infection practice good hand hygiene in crowded places and keep away from others who have obvious infections (difficult on planes). If travelling to the northern winter consider flu and pneumonia vaccination (particularly if at increased risk through age or other illnesses). Symptoms that indicate medical assessment may be required include persistent high fever, shortness of breath, any chest pain or just becoming increasing unwell. Medical care in Western Europe is generally on par with Australia and most doctors speak good English, especially in major centres. Travel insurance is essential.
Measles cases have reached record numbers across Western Europe. Those born before 1966 have generally had the disease and so have natural immunity, and those born after 1982 have generally had the full course of 2 measles containing vaccines. Therefore susceptible individuals tend to be those born between 1966 and 1982, or those born after 1982 whose parents failed to get them fully vaccinated.
Measles is a highly infectious virus spread by respiratory droplets. It causes a high fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and a dramatic red rash. About 10% of sufferers go on to develop complications which include pneumonia and ear infections, or more rarely brain inflammation and progressive brain damage. There have been many deaths in Western Europe related to the current outbreak. The vaccine has been proven to be safe and there is no link to the development of autism.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Because of the long flight between Australia and Europe, all travellers should take steps to avoid deep vein thrombosis, including adequate hydration and avoidance of prolonged immobilisation. Some individuals are at high risk and need to take additional measures such as wearing compression stockings or taking blood thinning medication.
Travel to Europe is a good opportunity to update the combined tetanus/diphtheria/whooping cough vaccine if more than 10 years since previously vaccinated. Measles, influenza, and pneumonia vaccines may also be appropriate – see previous comments. Currently all Australians 1-19 years of age are eligible for the free four strain meningitis ACWY vaccination. A good idea before travel for those in this age group not already vaccinated, we also tend to recommend the vaccine up to the age of 25. Decisions regarding which are most appropriate depend on duration and nature of travel, itinerary, age, underlying medical conditions and past vaccination.