It's a question travel clinic nurses hear all the time; "I'm going abroad. Do I need to take a travel first aid kit?" OK, maybe not if you’re off to gay Paris for the weekend, but in areas such as Africa, South America and parts of Asia it’s a sensible question. It’s always sound advice to have first aid equipment when travelling, but if visits are planned to remote areas, where medical facilities may be inadequate, you should take a sterile travel first aid kit containing needles and syringes.
In many less developed countries, viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C are rife and can be transferred in the blood. Some countries do not have medical standards as high as those in the UK and equipment used may not be adequately sterilised, blood used for transfusions may not be screened for HIV, Hepatitis B and C. You quickly realise how, even if you are careful, a sterile travel first aid kit can quickly mean the difference between life and death.
You should be carrying adequate supplies so you can self-treat common traveller ailments, such as cuts, grazes and burns. In hot climates where there may be dust or poor hygiene you are more susceptible to infection. Wounds should be cleaned immediately, covered and if any signs of infection develop you should seek urgent medical help.
Things can go wrong when travelling, accidents can occur or you could get sick or injured on your trip. You might get hit by a dangerous driver, slip off a kerb and twist your ankle, or just catch a good old fashioned tummy bug. Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that will adequately cover you in the event that you get sick or injured. Don't miss out any pre-existing medical conditions, because even minor conditions can invalidate your claim if they were not disclosed beforehand.
Make sure your insurance covers you for all the activities you wish to experience on your travels and includes cover for medical evacuation, personal injury and terrorist activity. A frightening statistic is that only 60% of insurance policies cover terrorism, so make sure you read the small print and have adequate cover.
What do I need to take in my travel first aid kit?
Contents of a travel first aid kit will vary for each traveller’s needs. There are a few key areas you should consider:
Emergency Medications: antibiotics for wound infections, pain killers, prescribed medications should all be kept in their original packaging.
Diarrhoea Treatment: oral rehydration saltsare particularly important if you are travelling with children. Antidiarrhoeal tablets can be purchased from your local pharmacy or travel clinic. Alcohol hand gel can be useful for when there are no hand washing facilities available.
Injuries: dressings and swabs.
Lotions: you can purchase treatments for eye infections (such as chloramphenicol) from your local pharmacy, an antibiotic ointment for skin infections such as fucidin and a cream to apply to burns may be useful. An antihistamine cream is useful for treating rashes and insect bites.
Equipment: scissors, tweezers, tick removers and safety pins, sterile gloves, a digital thermometer.
Mosquitoes: mosquito nets, insect repellents .
Sterile Equipment: sterile needles and syringes, intravenous cannula for a drip, suture material for sewing up skin. These should be in a specially designed kit. Do not carry single needles and syringes as customs may suspect they are for drug use. Purchase a specially prepared sterile first aid kit that includes a declaration that the contents are for personal medical use in an emergency.
Documentation: first aid book, details of blood group and regular medication, copies of prescriptions if carrying prescribed medication.