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Personal hygiene

Infectious diseases are mainly spread as a result of poor hygiene. The most important rule is the simplest: always wash your hands after using the toilet and before preparing food or eating.  Make sure you have antibacterial hand soap and/or gel with you as well as clean, dry towels. Your body will also be exposed to external risks. Do not walk barefoot in long grass. We also recommend wearing clothes that cover the entire body and that you do not swim in stagnant or slow-moving water.


The most common health problems experienced by travellers are diarrhoea and intestinal infections. In most cases, contaminated food, drinking water and beverages are the cause. The most important things you can do to avoid infection are:

  • do not eat cooked food that has been stored for several hours at room temperature;
  • only eat food that is thoroughly cooked and still warm, or raw fruit and vegetables that have not already been peeled and are not damaged;
  • do not buy food from street vendors;
  • do not eat ice cream if you do not know its origin;
  • ask locals which fish are safe and which could be poisonous;
  • boil unpasteurised milk before use;
  • if you are in any doubt as to the quality of the drinking water be sure to boil it before use;
  • do not have ice cubes in your drinks: they are often made from water which is not drinking water;
  • brush your teeth using safe (bottled) water;
  • only drink bottled water if the seal has not been broken or if the bottles are sealed with a metal cap/crown;
  • try to choose hot drinks because they tend to be safer.

The standards of hygiene practised by locals when preparing food are a good indication of whether or not it is safe to eat and drink there. The risks of getting an infection or diarrhoea are much higher in a country where hygiene standards are low. Poor infrastructure and poor quality tap water contribute to the level of risk. In countries where such conditions exist it is advisable to take extra precautions when it comes to hygiene - even in expensive hotels and restaurants.

Hepatitis A and E, cholera, giardia and typhoid are all diseases which are spread through contaminated drinking water. In addition, various viruses, bacteria and parasites can cause traveller's diarrhoea. Eighty per cent of the people who travel to areas where the water is contaminated are affected. Toxins in seafood and fish are also well known causes of intestinal disorders.

Bathing, showering and swimming

Please note that water used for bathing, showering or swimming is not always safe. It can be contaminated with bacteria and viruses which cause intestinal infections. You should always ask about the quality of the swimming water in advance and avoid locations near to where sewage is discharged. Always try not to swallow water when swimming or bathing.

Infectious diseases

Various infectious diseases are commonly experienced by people who travel to less developed countries. It is important to be aware that you could be affected by one of these infections if you are visiting such countries. You can learn more about specific diseases from the Diseases section of our website.

Insects and animals

When travelling to a sub tropical country you run the risk of contracting one of the diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. These include malaria, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever. You may also be exposed to the risk of infection from ticks which transmit diseases such as tick-borne encephalitis. Some of these diseases can develop rapidly and become very serious. Anyone travelling to a (sub) tropical country should take the following precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes or ticks:

  • wear clothing that covers the entire body (long trousers, long sleeves, shoes and socks). This is particularly important in the evening and at night.
  • apply an insect repellent containing DEET to all exposed skin. Products containing DEET are also safe for pregnant women and children. A concentration of 30% DEET is usually sufficient. Do not apply the product to the hands of babies or small children as they tend to suck their fingers which would be unsafe.
  • make sure you are sleeping in a mosquito-free room or under an undamaged mosquito net which has been impregnated with mosquito repellent. This is especially important for children and pregnant women. If there is air-conditioning: use it.
  • you can take anti-malaria tablets during and after travel to an area where there is a high-risk of malaria. Your Travel Clinic doctor can give you a prescription.

Animals can also transmit diseases, be poisonous or trigger allergic reactions. Rabies is common amongst wild animals in many countries and can sometimes be found in domestic animals as well. Mammals can transmit viruses through bites or scratches. To prevent this happening try to remember the following:

  • avoid any unnecessary contact with animals. Do not pet or tease them.
  • if you are bitten or scratched by an animal contact a doctor immediately if possible and certainly within 24 hours.
  • There are a series of rabies vaccinations available. Consult your Travel Clinic doctor.

The list of poisonous animals includes certain kinds of jellyfish, spiders, scorpions and snakes. It is not possible to be vaccinated against their poisons, but antidotes are often available. If you are bitten or stung by a poisonous animal you should go directly to the nearest doctor, hospital or medical clinic.

Some helpful tips for avoiding such incidents are:

  • listen to advice from local people, or people with experience of travelling in the area;
  • avoid places where dangerous animals have been seen;
  • wear boots or closed-shoes in areas where snakes are common;
  • if you are staying in an area where snakes or scorpions are known to be common, take your boots/shoes indoors at night and check inside your shoes before putting them on again;
  • contact a doctor immediately if you have been, or suspect you may have been, bitten or stung by a poisonous animal.