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Travel first aid kit

No matter where in the world you're travelling to, you should always carry a first aid kit. It should contain all the supplies that you're likely to need for the full length of your trip. When putting together your travel first aid kit, consider where you're going and what you're likely to be doing.

It is important that you and those travelling with you know how to use the first aid kit. A good first aid manual can be helpful. For more adventurous travellers, it may be worth completing a basic first aid course before your trip.

What to include in a basic kit
You should consider including the following items in your travel first aid kit, as they will be useful in most destinations. The list is not exhaustive. The amount or number of each item you take will depend on the number of people who are travelling with you.

The components of your first aid kit should be stored in a suitable container (preferably waterproof) with a secure lid.

First aid items
All travel first aid kits should contain items for dealing with minor injuries such as cuts and grazes. These include:

  • antiseptic wipes
  • antiseptic spray or cream
  • gauze squares
  • non-sticky dressings
  • fabric plasters
  • blister plasters
  • skin closure strips (for holding the edges of a wound together)
  • a bandage
  • surgical tape
  • scissors (for cutting tape, plasters and bandages)
  • safety pins (for securing bandages)
  • tweezers (for removing objects such as splinters)

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines
These include medicines that relieve pain or help to reduce a fever (eg paracetamol or ibuprofen). It is better to keep tablets in blister packs (the transparent moulded plastic in which tablets are usually packaged) because loose tablets may absorb moisture from the air and this can stop them from working properly.

Many people suffer from diarrhoea while abroad, so you may wish to take some antidiarrhoea tablets with you. These are more suitable for older children and adults. For younger children, ready-mixed rehydration salts can be added to drinking water. You may wish to carry water purification tablets in your kit for when bottled water is not available.

Insect repellent creams and devices can be useful. But in case you do get stung or bitten, include some antihistamine (bite relief) cream and tablets in your kit. Antihistamine tablets are also useful for allergic reactions.

Prescription medicines
If you or a member of your party regularly takes prescribed medicines, make sure you pack enough for your whole trip. Allow for a couple of days delay either side.

Keep medicines in their correctly-labelled packaging. It is useful to carry a letter from your doctor stating which medicines you need and what they are for, as this may be needed at customs.

For some medicines there are limits on the amount that you are allowed to take out of one country and into other countries. It is best to contact the appropriate country's embassy or high commission before you travel to check whether your medicine is acceptable.

It is also important to be prepared if you have medical conditions that occur or flare up occasionally. This might include inhalers if you suffer from asthma, steroid creams or tablets for eczema or antibiotics for recurrent infections.

Additional items for your kit
Depending on your destination and your individual requirements, you may need to include some extra items in your travel first aid kit.

Sun and sea protection
It is vital that you protect your skin in the sun. Take a water-resistant sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher and helps block out UVA and UVB rays.

Vinegar can help relieve jellyfish stings. A small sachet from your local fish and chip shop will do!

To reduce the chances of an unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, take some condoms with you.

If you are currently taking the contraceptive pill, make sure you take enough with you to last the length of your trip.

If you are venturing away from good medical facilities on your trip, it may be worth taking some antibiotics with you. Generally, they will cover the most likely problems that you will encounter such as diarrhoea or wound infections. Your doctor will need to prescribe these antibiotics for you. He or she will discuss with you when and how to use them.

Antimalarial medicines
Malaria is a disease that is transmitted to humans by a bite from an infected mosquito. It is widespread in many warm countries. If you are planning to visit a country where malaria is prevalent, you need to reduce your chances of being bitten by mosquitoes. DEET (diethyltoluamide) is the most effective mosquito repellent. It should be regularly applied, particularly at dawn, dusk and night.

You are also advised to take antimalarial medicines. Consult your doctor or a travel clinic before your trip to discuss the risk of malaria in the areas you are visiting and for advice on appropriate medicines.

Specialist advice is needed for children, pregnant women and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

You may need to start taking your antimalarial medicines up to three weeks before your leave. Like all medicines, antimalarial medicines may cause side-effects. If any side-effects occur (such as headaches, mild tummy upsets and increased sensitivity to the sun), then these can be dealt with before you leave. You may need to continue taking antimalarial medicines for a month after you return home from a malaria-infected country, even if you don't have symptoms.

To find out whether malaria prevention is recommended in the countries you are visiting, go to the 'Country List' on the World Health Organisation's website

Emergency travel kits
If you are visiting an area where good medical facilities and equipment cannot be guaranteed, you may want to carry an emergency medical kit. These kits contain sterilised and sealed medical equipment such as syringes, stitches and needles. Your kit should be handed to the doctor or nurse in a medical emergency.

Emergency medical kits can be bought from pharmacies and travel clinics. Provided that your kit is well packaged and clearly labelled, you should not encounter problems at customs.

Dealing with accidents and injuries
Simple cuts and injuries
All wounds need to be washed first - preferably with sterile gauze rather than cotton wool. If clean water isn't available, you might want to use some antiseptic wipes instead - these will also ensure that the wound is clean. Cover the wound with a non-sticking dressing to prevent insects and dirt getting in.

If you are travelling in a tropical region, take particular care of minor injuries as they can become contaminated and fail to heal. Appropriate cleaning and use of an antiseptic is essential.

If you do need to seek medical advice, the embassy or consul should have a list of local doctors and clinics.

Serious injuries and accidents
Accidents and injuries can be a cause of serious health problems abroad, particularly if there are no good medical facilities nearby.

Travel insurance that covers injuries as well as illness while travelling is essential. It should also include a 24-hour assistance service. If you or a member of your party suffers an accident or serious injury that requires medical assistance, contact your insurance company as soon as you can and keep any receipts.

If you think that blood may not be properly screened for diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, delay a blood transfusion if possible. Often, other fluids can be given at first, while a member of your party seeks a screened blood supply. It may help to know your blood group before you leave home.

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