Practical tips for going on holiday
There is nothing to stop anyone affected by an immunodeficiency going on holiday. But wherever you are going it helps to plan ahead to ensure that everything goes smoothly if you, your child or a family member who are affected by an immunodeficiency gets ill while on holiday.
You can read our guide below on what to consider when going away or you can download our information leaflets on these topics. At the bottom of the page you will find information on companies that offer travel insurance to people affected by an immunodeficiency.
- At least twelve weeks before you travel, talk to your child’s or your family member’s immunology service for advice about where you are going, and about vaccinations, medication and emergency treatment. They may also suggest you reschedule any infusions, to make sure you are in good health for going away.
- Carry a letter explaining your condition. Ask your doctor to write you a letter explaining your condition that you can present to any medical staff you may need to see while on holiday. Ensure this letter also contains clear information on all medication you will have with you, as well as all medical equipment you need to carry for your immunoglobulin therapy. This is essential for airport security and any medical problems you have while abroad. Have the letter in English and consider getting it translated into the language of the country you are visiting.
- Vaccinations. Your health team will know which vaccinations you might need. Take their advice otherwise you could end up paying for vaccinations that are not necessary because of your particular immunodeficiency condition and its treatment. For example, some PID patients cannot receive ‘live’ vaccines, so be sure to check what is required before you book your holiday. Make sure your travel clinic is aware of your condition and that the ‘killed’ version of any vaccine must be used.
If, because of your immunodeficiency, you cannot have a recommended vaccination for the country you are visiting, carry a letter from your doctor explaining why, otherwise border control may not let you in.
- Think medicines. It is recommended that you take a course of medicines, such as antibiotics, with you. Speak to your doctor and get your prescription in plenty of time. If you take a liquid oral suspension, make sure you discuss this with the pharmacist and explain that you do not want the prescription made up. You will need to ensure a clean supply of sterile water if and when you do need to make up your medicine while away. Pack the amount of medication you will need for your holiday, plus some extra in case you are delayed when travelling home.
Carry your medicines, such as immunoglobulin and antibiotics, in your hand luggage just in case your hold baggage is lost. Keep everything in its original packaging with the prescription labels visible for airport security. Also take an extra copy of your prescription with you as it will be invaluable if you lose your medication or end up in a hospital.
Remember, some medicines, such as benzodiazepines, strong painkillers, such as diamorphine, and some medicines that contain hormones, such as anabolic steroids, come under ‘controlled medicines’ laws. A personal licence is needed to take these medicines abroad. You must apply for this licence at least 10 working days before you travel, and your GP will need to provide a letter supporting your application.
For more information on taking controlled medicines abroad, visit www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/2593.aspx
- Do some research: Establish where a main hospital is located in relation to where you are staying. Immunodeficiency UK can help in providing details of a specialist in the country you are visiting in case of an emergency. Check for specific risks with the country you are traveling to. Some examples may include the risk of rabies, risks from COVID-19 and other emerging health threats.
Ensure that you have with you the details of your consultant and nurses at home, as well as the contact numbers for your insurance company’s medical assistance team.
- Insurance: If you are travelling within Europe, apply for a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). The UK GHIC lets you get state healthcare in Europe at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. If you have a UK European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) it will be valid until the expiry date on the card. Once it expires, you’ll need to apply for a GHIC to replace it. Find out more at www.dh.gov.uk/travellers.
Never travel without appropriate travel insurance, and take the insurance policy with you. Ensure that your insurance is up to date and that there have not been any changes to your condition that now make your policy void.
Many insurance companies have a 24-hour emergency helpline. This should be your first port of call if you encounter a serious problem with covering costs.
- Pack a first aid kit: Take a small first aid kit with you that contains antiseptic cream and wipes, water sterilisation tablets, insect repellent and a packet of plasters and dressings. In some countries there is a lack of sterile equipment. It is worth taking your own supply of sterile needles and syringes for use by doctors in an emergency. Ask your health team for their advice.
When you are away
Follow the usual measures to stay free from infection, and remember to wash your hands frequently. Visit www.nhs.uk/Livewell/TravelHealth/Pages/Travelhealthhome.aspx for travel advice by country. Here are our tips:
Be careful with buffets abroad, be it salad or other foods. These foods have generally been uncovered for a certain amount of time and therefore can contain bacteria, especially meat that has been under a heat lamp.
Unpeeled fruit and vegetables, salads, raw shellfish, ice-cream and ice cubes, underdone meat and uncooked, cold or reheated foods may be contaminated. Avoid buying food and ice-cream from street sellers.
Tap water abroad can cause illness due to bacteria and different mineral content. Therefore, it is advisable to drink only bottled water when abroad. Make sure that you buy bottled water from a reputable seller, and check the seal has not been broken. If you are not sure, carbonated water is less likely to be bottled tap water, and its alkaline pH helps kill bacteria.
Avoid swimming in polluted seas or lakes. This can be a cause of dysentery and respiratory infections, as well as ear, nose and throat infections. Enquire how clean the sea and lakes are. Swimming pool water may also pose a health risk, so ask how often it is monitored for bugs and cleaned.
Read our food safety advice and advice on keeping well.