People who travel overseas have up to a 50 per cent chance of suffering a travel-related illness. While most travel-related illness is minor, some very serious infectious diseases are endemic in some parts of the world. All travellers should be prepared for travel and be aware of health issues and measures to protect themselves from sickness.

Below is a general guide, it is NOT all inclusive, speak to your Doctor

Prepare for travel

There are many things you can do to prepare for a healthy holiday, including:

  • Make sure you are healthy before you travel.
  • Update your vaccinations.
  • Make sure you pack enough of any medications you need, or take a prescription.
  • Organise travel insurance, including cover if you need to be evacuated to a suitable hospital.
  • Take a copy of your GPMP (if you have one)
  • Be prepared and aware of health issues when travelling
Travel vaccinations

You may want to arrange vaccinations or medications to protect against diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid or malaria. In fact, some countries legally require travellers to have certain vaccinations, such as yellow fever. As you will need to have some vaccinations weeks or months before travel, it is best to see your doctor six to eight weeks before you go. However, if you have to travel at short notice, you can still have some vaccines.

Your doctor will be able to advise which vaccines are suitable for you depending on:

  • Your medical history and age
  • Your destination and likely accommodation
  • The season in which you are travelling
  • The length of stay
  • The type of travel, for example, bus tour or backpacking.

Some illnesses you can catch overseas can be prevented with immunisation. Anyone travelling overseas should visit their doctor to find out what vaccinations they need. Even if you think your travel destination is safe, keep in mind that disease outbreaks can and do happen. Vaccination offers good protection against many diseases.

Check with your doctor, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Immunise Australia for the latest information on international infection outbreaks and available vaccines. In addition to immunisations against new infectious diseases, you might need booster doses of vaccines that you have received before.

There is no set immunisation schedule that will suit all travellers, so you must see a doctor. It is important that you don’t wait until the last minute to visit your doctor to discuss the immunisations needs for your trip. You might need a number of doses and you might need time after immunisation for your body to develop full immunity.


General Immunisation for travellers

The WHO recommends certain routine vaccinations for all travellers such as those scheduled vaccinations available on Australia’s National Immunisation Program. Additional immunisations might be required for people with specific needs or for people travelling to certain areas with high-risk of specific infectious disease.

Routine immunisation for travellers

You should check that you (or your children) are up to date or need routine immunisations for diseases including:

  • Tetanus
  • Diphtheria
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Varicella (chicken pox)
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Pneuomococcal
  • Rotavirus
  • Polio.

The common diseases of childhood occur more frequently in countries without widespread immunisation programs, but they can also occur in countries that do have immunisation programs. If you are travelling with children, it is important that you speak with your doctor about the risks.

Some of these routine immunisations, such as for flu, are important for people with medical conditions such as asthma, respiratory and cardiac conditions, metabolic conditions (such as diabetes) or anyone over 65 years of age.

Selective immunisation for travellers

For travellers to areas with a high risk of specific infections, speak with your doctor about immunisations that you might need for diseases including:

  • Cholera
  • Hepatitis A
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Meningococcal C
  • Rabies
  • Tick-borne encephalitis
  • Typhoid fever
  • Tuberculosis
  • Yellow fever.


Proof of immunisation

Some countries require proof of immunisation for some infectious diseases before you enter. Check with your doctor.

Diseases that might require proof of immunisation include:

  • Yellow fever
  • Meningococcal – specifically immunisation against serogroups A, C, W and Y
  • Polio – required by Saudi Arabia for some people.


Eating and drinking while travelling

The most common travel-related illnesses are gastrointestinal diseases usually picked up from poorly prepared foods or untreated water. To avoid diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea and vomiting associated with these illnesses:

  • Use boiled or bottled water, or water purifiers or tablets.
  • Avoid ice in drinks.
  • Avoid unpasteurised milk and dairy products.
  • Avoid fruit and vegetables that have been washed in the local water.
  • Eat thick-skinned fruit and vegetables that you can peel yourself, such as bananas, oranges and mandarins.
  • Make sure food is cooked thoroughly and eat it while it’s hot.
  • Avoid shellfish.
  • Don’t buy food from street stalls – hotels and busy restaurants are safest.
  • Take care with personal hygiene.

“COOK IT, PEEL IT, BOIL IT or FORGET IT” is an easy way of trying to remember some of above. Beware of ice!

Avoid insect bites when travelling

Some serious infectious diseases such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever, are transmitted by insect bites. While there are vaccines and drugs available to help protect against some of these diseases, travellers are advised to always protect against mosquito bites.

Some tips include:

  • Wear mosquito repellent that contains at least 30 per cent DEET.
  • Stay indoors between dusk and dawn. The mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite generally feed at this time.
  • Apply repellent, such as permethrin, to your clothes and bedding.
  • Wear socks, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors.
  • Use a bed net. (mosquito net)
  • Stay in air-conditioned, screened accommodation.
  • Remember mosquitos carrying dengue bite during daytime as well.


Sexually transmissible infections and travel

HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmissible infections are endemic in many countries, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. Safe sex practices are essential.


Tips for older travellers
For older people, the risk of death or serious illness while travelling is the same, or even more, than staying at home.

However, planning is important, and before travelling, older travellers should consider:

  • See your doctor for a check-up and discuss your fitness for the trip you are planning.
  • See your dentist and optometrist.
  • Pack a spare pair of glasses, any medications you need and a small medical kit.
  • Organise travel health insurance with pre-existing illness cover if needed. Make sure it covers emergency evacuation.
  • Make sure routine immunisations are up to date and get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia.
  • Consider your back and joints – use luggage with built-in wheels.
  • Take clothes and hats to suit the climate.
  • If you are concerned about your health or the health of someone you are travelling with, consider taking an organised holiday.


Tips for travellers with a disability

Travellers with a disability will need to make sure in advance that their needs can be accommodated while travelling and should consider:

  • Making arrangements for wheelchairs, guide dogs and seating needs well in advance
  • Finding out about the medical facilities in the areas you will be visiting
  • Getting a letter from your doctor detailing your medical requirements or conditions
  • Carrying a medical alert bracelet or pendant for specific conditions.


Immunisation for specific diseases

Listed below is a brief overview about some infectious diseases, but you should check for more detailed information and speak with your doctor about your travel immunisation needs.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is the most common vaccine-preventable disease in travellers. Information for hepatitis A includes:

  • It is spread by contact with contaminated food or water.
  • Hepatitis A is caused by a virus.
  • Symptoms include fever, lack of energy (malaise) and jaundice (yellow skin colour).
  • Hepatitis A is rarely fatal.
  • Treatment for the symptoms is the only treatment available.
  • Immunisation is safe and extremely effective.


Hepatitis B

Information for hepatitis B includes:

  • Hepatitis B is spread by body fluid – commonly through sexual intercourse or shared syringes, but also by accident.
  • The cause is a virus.
  • Symptoms include fever, lack of energy (malaise) and jaundice (yellow skin colour).
  • Around half of all cases worldwide result in death.
  • Immunisation is safe and extremely effective.



Typhoid is common in developing countries. Information for typhoid includes:

  • The cause is a bacterium.
  • Symptoms include fever, weakness, headache and sometimes a rash.
  • Typhoid can be treated successfully with antibiotics.
  • Immunisation must be completed at least one week before travelling.



Rabies is common to Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. Information for rabies includes:

  • The cause is a virus passed on by a bite or scratch from an infected dog or any mammal that carries the virus.
  • Symptoms include headache and fever, then convulsions (fits) and death.
  • All animal bites and scratches should be immediately and thoroughly washed with soap and water for at least 10 minutes.
  • A three-dose Immunisation is given over three to four weeks before travel.
  • Treatment after a bite from a possibly rabid animal involves a course of five vaccines and, if previously unvaccinated, an injection of immunoglobulin.


Meningococcal meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis is common in sub-Saharan Africa. Information for meningococcal meningitis includes:

  • The cause is a virus spread by close contact with infected secretions from the nose and throat.
  • Symptoms include headache, fever, confusion and a stiff neck.
  • Treatment can only ease the symptoms.
  • Immunisation is a legal requirement for some countries.



Tuberculosis is common in developing countries. Information for tuberculosis includes:

  • The cause is a bacterium spread by aerosol droplets when someone with ‘active’ tuberculosis sings, laughs or sneezes.
  • Symptoms include persistent cough and fever.
  • Treatment involves a prolonged course of antibiotics.
  • Immunisation is recommended only for some travellers to high-risk areas for prolonged periods and must be preceded by a skin (Mantoux) test.


Japanese encephalitis

Japanese encephalitis is present throughout Asia (and in the Torres Strait region of Australia). Information for Japanese encephalitis includes:

  • The cause is a virus spread from animals to humans by infected mosquitoes.
  • Symptoms include headache, fever, confusion and nervous system problems.
  • Treatment can only ease the symptoms.
  • Three doses of vaccine are required so speak to your doctor about when to begin immunisations.


Yellow fever

Yellow fever is present in tropical South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Information for yellow fever includes:

  • The cause is a virus spread by infected mosquitoes.
  • Symptoms include fever, headache, bloody vomiting, jaundice and death.
  • The vaccine gives immunity for around 10 years.
  • Immunisation is a legal requirement for some countries and certification can only be given by an authorised travel health clinic.


Infectious diseases for which there are no vaccines

Infectious diseases are generally transmitted by food, water or a lack of hygiene (for example, ‘gastro’, traveller’s diarrhoea, giardiasis and amoebic dysentery) or by insects (for example, malaria and dengue fever). These diseases can be life threatening. Your doctor will advise you on measures and medications that you can take to help prevent these diseases.


Immunisation and HALO

The immunisations you may need are decided by your Health, Age, Lifestyle and Occupation. Together, these factors are referred to as HALO.

Talk to your doctor or immunisation provider if you think you or someone in your care has health, age, lifestyle or occupation factors that could mean further immunisation is necessary.

Read more about HALO: