Holiday health - your guide to the essentials

Many of us will soon be jetting off on holiday. Picture: TSPL
Many of us will soon be jetting off on holiday. Picture: TSPL
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THE countdown has started and after quite possibly the dreariest, greyest least spring-like spring in memory, thoughts are finally turning to holidays, beaches and getting some of that strange thing called sun on our backs.

But while we’re mulling over what to cram in the suitcase for the annual jaunt to warmer climes, there is one vital summer accessory that we may be tempted to take for granted – our health.

Every week, 30 British tourists need medical treatment in Spanish hospitals – free when they show a European Health Insurance Card. However, complaints to the EU Commission suggest some Brits in Spain have instead been forced into paying for expensive private care – among them, one holidaymaker who was hospitalised for a month at the cost of 37,000 euros.

But how many of us even knew such a card existed?

And, if that’s something we really should pack along with our passports, tickets and sun cream, what else might we need to include in our summer holiday health armoury?


The European Health Insurance Card is not a substitute for travel insurance – for example, if you are unfortunate enough to need an air ambulance to get you home, it will not pay for the average £15,000 cost. But it should entitle holders to free or reduced cost state care in Europe. In some countries that might not include things like dental treatment, hospital food, drinks and bed linen.

The cards are free and available by applying over the phone or online at or call 0845 606 2030.

Cards do not cover private treatment, or repatriation, so additional travel insurance is always a good thing. If you are travelling further afield, the NHS has reciprocal agreements with various non-European countries but not the United States, where medical treatment can be expensive. The NHS website,, has more information about healthcare while abroad.


Arriving abroad with only a few days’ supply of prescription drugs – whether it’s insulin for diabetes, contraceptive pill, blood pressure tablets, Warfarin or painkillers – can mean a harassing and stressful start to a summer break. And what if you diligently pack your medical supplies only to arrive on holiday and find them missing?

The NHS recommends patients speak to their doctor or practice nurse for advice well before they plan to travel. Be aware, too, that some countries – Pakistan, India and Turkey, for example – will not allow certain medicines to be brought in. Carry medication in hand luggage – if airline regulations allow – with a copy of your prescription. In some circumstances, it may be helpful to have a letter from your doctor. Pack a spare supply of medication in your suitcase or hold luggage. Remember some medication requires to be kept cool, so get advice from your pharmacist.


Long flights crammed into uncomfy seats with legs tucked under your armpits . . . the joys of international jet set travel.

Each year, one in every 1000 people in the UK is affected by deep vein thrombosis, when a blood clot develops in one of the deep veins in the body, often in the legs. Being immobile for a long period, such as during a long journey by plane, car, coach or train, means the blood flow around the body can slow down considerably – raising the risk of a clot forming.

A large clot will cause pain, redness and swelling usually in the calf. There may also be breathlessness and chest pain, and medical treatment should be sought as an emergency. To help prevent DVT, invest in a pair of flight socks, try to exercise regularly during your journey – even simply rotating the ankles or walking up and down the cabin can help – and wear loose clothing.


For tiny little pests, mosquitos have a habit of causing an awful lot of damage. While most commonly associated with malaria, cases of mosquito-borne dengue fever are rising. West Nile virus, yellow fever and eastern equine encephalitis, a rare disease in humans known as Triple E, are also spread by mosquitos.

Risks of mosquito-related diseases depend on where in the world you are – even parts of the US can be affected by outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases. Protect against bites by using repellents, wearing long-sleeved tops and trousers, and using a mosquito net. If travelling to areas particularly affected by malaria, take antimalarial tablets and remember to finish the dose.


We go on holiday to relax, but that can mean letting our guard down at the worst possible time. There are more tourist deaths from accidents than from preventable diseases like malaria.

Too much cheap booze fuels our relaxed attitude – often leading holidaymakers to take risks they’d never take at home. Hire cars, holiday mopeds and foreign roads are another danger combination, with the Foreign Office recently warning that two-thirds of tourists have run into trouble while driving abroad, whether that’s an accident or falling foul of road laws.

Statistics last summer from the government office also showed ten British tourists a day end up in a foreign hospital.


So, after months of being washed away by driving rain and howling wind, what’s the first thing we do on holiday?

Exposing pale blue Scottish flesh to the scorching sun without adequate precaution is only going to end in tears – or worse, skin cancer. Cases of skin cancer have soared over the past 20 years, with young Scots among the worst affected – around 1100 Scots are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every year. Cancer Research UK says its new research suggests the dreary weather may drive more people to reject usual sun precautions in their search for a summer tan.

The charity recommends using at least factor 15 sunscreen and heading into the shade when the sun is at its strongest. If you do get burned, invest in a good quality after sun lotion.


Remember bird flu and swine flu and how we all lived in fear of the latest virus? Well, stay worried, because the World Health Organisation has just confirmed that new killer virus MERS-CoV is “emerging faster than our understanding”, warning that it is a “threat to the entire world”.

The virus is similar to SARS, that killed more than half of the people it infected. Since September last year, it has resulted in 27 deaths, including two people in Britain. Most infections have been related to travel in the Middle East.


Almost one in four UK holidaymakers don’t have any vaccinations before they go away, despite travelling to areas that have life-threatening infectious diseases, according to the NHS.

Travel jabs aren’t always needed, but it pays to check, while some countries insist on seeing vaccination certificates before they allow entry. You might simply need to give previous vaccinations an extra boost. Check with your GP but be prepared to have to pay for certain injections.


An upset stomach is the most likely health woe to hit tourists abroad. It can be worse than just a few days stuck in the loo, diarrhoea can be particularly dangerous among the young and elderly and it’s important in hot countries not to become dehydrated. Minimise the risk by sticking to bottled water – even when brushing your teeth – avoiding buffets and turning down ice in drinks. Roadside ice creams and unwashed fruit are other danger areas.


Staying at home? Perhaps just planning a ramble into the Scotland’s great outdoors and thinking you’ll have nothing to worry about other than getting a thorough soaking from a traditional summer cloudburst? Think again, for the scourge of the outdoors type is, of course, the tiny tick, a nasty devil which can carry various diseases including potentially fatal Lyme disease. Ticks can be found in urban gardens and parks as well as rural locations. They feed by attaching on to skin and sucking the blood. It’s vital to remove the tick carefully, for information on how to deal with ticks log on to