Prevention is the best option

Health tips and regulations for international travellers

Viatges internacionals a Vall d'Hebron

In the last few years there has been a huge increase in the number of people who travel to exotic or tropical countries. This means that many people are coming into contact with infectious diseases different to those found in their normal environment, which may pose a big risk to their health. In order to be able to adopt the requisite measures, the traveller must be aware of the risks to which they may be exposed.


What do you need to bear in mind if you or someone close to you is planning an international trip?

The World Health Organization aims to prevent the international spread of infectious diseases. For this reason, recommendations are issued to help prevent these diseases and to suggest the necessary vaccines according to the nature of the trip. It is important to take into account that the majority of these illnesses can be avoided.

When you are planning a trip you should bear in mind a number of risks so that you can enjoy a healthy trip and avoid getting an infection. You should think about:

  • Who is going on the trip: age, gender, if they are pregnant or not, if they suffer any acute or chronic illnesses, immunodeficiency such as HIV infection, allergies and what medication they normally take.
  • Where the trip will take place and what itinerary will be followed: country, area and route.
  • When it will start and at what time of year.
  • What the reason for travel is: business, tourism, adventure, etc.
  • What type of trip it is: independent or organised tour.


Once the previous point has been assessed, it is a good idea to establish a series of preventive measures, in the following three stages:


1st stage: before the trip

  • Trips to tropical/subtropical areas should be planned in advance.
  • Wherever possible, you should think about medical aspects and/or other aspects related to the trip.
  • A basic medical kit (painkillers, disinfectant, antidiarrhoeal) must be prepared.
  • If you suffer from a chronic illness you must take sufficient medication with you and carry a medical report.
  • You should take out medical travel insurance.


2nd stage: during the trip

1. Think about the condition of foods and drinks, as well as taking certain hygiene and safety measures, such as:

  • Wash your hands frequently before meals or when you have been to the toilet.
  • If possible, drink bottled water. Hot drinks and bottled drinks are safer.
  • Do not use ice cubes of unknown origin.
  • Drink bottled milk and duly sanitised derivatives.
  • You should be careful with pastries, desserts and ice creams.
  • Avoid seafood and raw fish. Bear in mind that in some regions eating cooked fish may also be risky.
  • Meals should be properly cooked and served hot.
  • Be careful with sauces and dips containing raw egg.
  • Peel your own fruit and ensure vegetables are cooked before eating them.
  • Avoid eating foods from street stalls.


2. Climatological and physical factors must be taken into account: 

  • Exposure to sunlight in some tropical countries may cause sun stroke. Sun protection filters are therefore advised (sun cream, hats, sunglasses with UV protection, etc.).
  • Exposure to high temperatures and humidity may cause dehydration. For this reason, you should drink plenty of water.
  • Staying in high altitude areas can be dangerous for people with heart and lung problems. You should ascend gradually for better acclimatisation.
  • Bathing in rivers and lakes may expose you to parasitic diseases.
  • Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in low-income per capita countries. It is necessary, therefore, to take precautionary measures as far as possible.


3. You should consider the presence of insects and other animals (protection or barrier measures should be taken):

  • When outdoors, at night and in the morning, wearing long-sleeved clothes and light colours is recommended while perfumes should be avoided, as much as possible, as they attract mosquitoes. On unprotected parts of the body, insect repellents containing DEET (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) should be used every 6 hours or frequently.
  • When indoors, use anti-mosquito sprays or coils and vaporisers that contain pyrethrins. Use rooms with mosquito screens on the doors and windows, as well as nets around the bed. Where possible, you are advised to sleep in an air conditioned room.
  • Contact with any type of animal must be avoided, as they may be exempt from health checks. You are advised to wear closed footwear to avoid the risk of being bitten (for example by snakes or similar animals).


4. Bear in mind time zone changes (jet lag)

  • Jet lag consists of the physical and mental symptoms associated with changing time zone.
  • The symptoms that may appear are: insomnia, irritability, loss of appetite and exhaustion. This factor affects both the journey out and the return trip.


5. Do not forget prevention of sexually transmitted disease

  • The most effective way of avoided sexually transmitted disease is the condom.


6. It is important to respect the culture and customs of the countries you are visiting


3rd stage: after travelling

Should the person who has travelled have any health issues after returning from the trip or during travel, it is advisable for them to be medically assessed (at a primary care centre or a specialised travel clinic).

Likewise, you are advised to have a medical evaluation three months after travelling, since there are diseases that do not manifest themselves immediately. Healthcare staff will also need to be informed of you having travelled to a tropical zone up to 12 months after having done so.


Other related health information

Department of Health


World Health Organization

Related diseases
Related professionals
Dra. Magda
Campins Martí
Head of Department
Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology
Epidemiology and Public Health
Sra. Carmen
Ferrer Barbera
Nursing Supervisor
Infectious Diseases