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Travel health in the pandemic ‘not all about vaccines’

Travel health in the pandemic ‘not all about vaccines’

Travel health during the pandemic is ‘not all about vaccines’ and healthcare professionals need to be better at putting more emphasis onto other travel-related risks, says travel nurse specialist Clare Henderson.

Henderson, who works with TREC Travel Health Training and the Travel Clinic in Glasgow, was speaking at Nursing in Practice’s virtual event last week (25 May). The event, the first in a series of virtual events across 2022, gave attendees updates and insight on immunisation, cardiovascular disease and respiratory care, including a session on advising travellers in a pandemic.

Nursing in Practice events continue next week in Birmingham (9 June) with a live programme, discussing topics including nurse leadership, the management of menopause, group patient consultations, health and wellbeing and bladder dysfunction.

‘A lot of the outbreaks that are happening are not vaccine-preventable,’ said Ms Henderson. ‘We need to understand what the diseases that are circulating are and a little bit about how they’re spread, because then we can then give the information to a traveller to allow them to change their behaviour and reduce that risk.’

She highlighted that road traffic accidents are the most frequent cause of death amongst travellers aged 15-29 and that professionals also need to inform travellers of risks such as sun, altitude, and diseases borne by insects, animals, food and drink. Although awareness of respiratory and hand hygiene has increased in recent years, she said it was still important to remind travellers, for example those planning to make the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of July.

‘I think it’s fair to say a lot of us are feeling fairly rusty because we’re not seeing the volumes of travellers that we used to see,’ she continued.

She advised attendees to consult resources such as Turas, TRAVAX, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow’s Good Practice Guidance for Providing a Travel Health Service, and the RCN’s travel health nursing competencies, which she added are due to be updated later this year.

She advised nurses refer travellers to the Covid-19 requirements of the countries they’re visiting; the Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) website; and to advise them to get travel insurance – and for them to be aware if their policy will cover them should they become infected with Covid-19 while abroad. She also suggested travellers look carefully at the risk of Covid in the country they are travelling to – and how the healthcare system there is coping.

Meanwhile, she said that she was ‘not worried’ about the monkeypox virus despite a rise in infections in recent weeks.

‘It’s worrying that it’s appeared and it’s spreading in a way that we maybe haven’t seen before,’ she said, however emphasised that it was spread through close contact and has quite a long incubation period, giving contact tracers time to find people and isolate them.

‘It’s boomed quite quickly but the risk to the general population is low,’ she added.

She did express concern, however, regarding malaria, and pointed out that symptoms could be confused with flu or Covid. Ms Henderson added that Zika virus was ‘still an issue’ for professionals to be aware of and the importance of highlighting to travellers how to avoid insect bites and for female travellers to avoid getting pregnant for up to three months after returning from a country where there’s a Zika virus risk.

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