Make sure you speak to your GP about which travel vaccinations you require while planning your gap year. You will need to organise this well in advance as some vaccines you might need will have to be administered over a few months.
The travel vaccinations you have will depend entirely on your own personal medical history and the places you intend on visiting and the things you plan to do.
Initially, you can visit the website www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk to get a general idea of what type of travel vaccinations you might need. This site also holds up to date information on any current outbreaks of disease around the world.
Your next port of call should be your GP, who will easily be able to access your medical records and determine which travel vaccines you need to have; some of them may be free on the NHS but others you may have to pay for. Here is the list of the free and paid for vaccines
Travel Vaccines You Pay For
Free NHS Travel Vaccines
Diphtheria, Polio, and tetanus booster
Combined Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B
Alternatively, you have the option to visit a travel clinic. Travel clinics will have the latest information on global outbreaks and the medical teams consist of travel experts. They will look into where you’re travelling and usually provide you with an assessment. Because travel clinics sole focus is travel health they have the time to be more thorough.
Due to the specialist service they offer travel clinic vaccinations tend to be a bit more expensive than GPs, however, this isn’t always the case so shop around and see who has the best price. Some even offer a free online consultation first.
Sometimes you may find that the vaccines that you need for travel are not available at your GP, and it can take up to three months for them to get the travel vaccines delivered. If this is the case check with your local travel clinic, as they are more likely to have it.
Malaria is the most common mosquito-borne disease and the one that you are more likely to be in contact with while travelling, as it exists over three continents.
What exactly is malaria?
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted when bitten by the female of the anopheles mosquito. There are four different parasites or malaria strains. Plasmodium falciparum is the most dangerous strain and it can be fatal.
Can you get a travel vaccination for malaria?
Unfortunately, there are no vaccinations for malaria, only preventive treatment. Antimalarial treatment consists of tablets that need to be taken before departure, during the trip, and after arriving home.
Will medication stop me from getting malaria?
No, but it increases your chances of not getting it by 95%, and it should be complemented with personal preventative measures to be more effective.
At the bottom of this article, you will find a list of preventative measures that you should use in conjunction with the medication to minimise your chances of getting malaria.
How does malaria medication work?
Antimalarial medications don’t stop you getting infected by the parasite, instead, they suppress the symptoms of the infection by killing the parasites in the liver or when they enter the bloodstream.
Is there just one antimalarial treatment?
There are different antimalarial treatments available, and what is prescribed will usually be dependent on what country you will be visiting.
Your GP or a travel clinic are the ones who need to advise on this, not only because they have access to up to date information but also because the treatment can interact with other medications that you may be on.
Some strains of malaria have already become immune to the active ingredient chloroquine. Don’t worry, if you are going to a chloroquine-resistant zone there are different alternative antimalarials that can be taken.
Are there any side effects?
Antimalarials can sometimes have some severe side effects and between 15-20% of travellers will experience stomach upset, dizziness, vivid dreams or emotional symptoms such as anxiety. However, that means that 80-85% of people will be fine.
The side effects are usually transient and tolerable. Serious adverse reactions such as psychosis or seizures are rare. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t mix with alcohol or other drugs. Take the medication with food and drink lots of water during the day. Doing these things will help to avoid some of the side effects.
Cover up at dusk and dawn when the mosquitoes are more active. Think about the type of clothing that might be needed if you are to be in a mosquito-borne disease zone; take trousers and long sleeved shirts made of light breathable materials.
Light colours are preferred as they will keep you cooler. Wear your walking boots with socks and tuck the trousers in.
Bring a big enough mosquito net that is impregnated with permethrin, a mosquito repellant, which further increases their effectiveness.
We recommend using a net whether in malaria zones or not, as getting mosquito bites is pretty common in most tropical destinations and the bites are extremely irritating. Also, check whether the mesh windows in hostels need any DIY repairs with a bit of gaffa tape.
Use a mosquito repellant with at least 30% DEET as the active ingredient. We are all for natural products, but they are simply not as effective as their chemical counterpart.
There is a lot of misconception about DEET, but as long as you don’t put it in your eyes, don’t drink it, don’t bathe in it, and put it where it shouldn’t go, you will be fine.