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Travel & Holiday

Have a safe trip

Medical emergencies top the number of calls from travellers to International SOS during the Chinese New Year period
The Straits Times - January 19, 2012
By: Ng Wan Ching
| More
Have a safe trip Stay hydrated on flights and move about the cabin frequently.

Many people will take the chance to go away for the long Chinese New Year weekend.

But it is not the disapproving looks from relatives which they need to prepare for.

Medical ailments such as gastroenteritis and upper respiratory tract infections are the top emergencies that spoil vacations during Chinese New Year for Singaporeans unexpectedly.

Next are sprains or fractures, then heart attacks and strokes, followed by running out of medication, according to International SOS, a global medical and security assistance company.

These are the top five reasons that travellers seek help for from the company's alarm centre during the Chinese New Year period.

This is the first time the company has ranked its case types for a specific festive occasion.

The total number of cases over Chinese New Year in the past five years at International SOS' Singapore alarm centre was about 18,000, said DrDavid Teo, its medical director for Singapore and Malaysia.

He said: 'As with any other peak travel period, travellers may face difficulties on the road if they are unprepared and do not plan ahead properly.'

The same is true for both corporate and leisure travellers, said International SOS.

Acute gastroenteritis, better known as stomach flu, and upper respiratory tract infections, including colds and influenza, accounted for more than half of all cases recorded during the Chinese New Year period in the last five years, said Dr Teo.

The next most common calls for help are from those suffering from aches, sprains and fractures.

There are the unlucky ones who slip on the icy ground on their first step off the coach bus on the first day of their tour, said Dr Teo.

Falling on a wet bathroom floor is also not uncommon, he said.

In an injury, it is important to seek treatment early at appropriate medical facilities.

Delays may result in medical complications, said Dr Teo.

International SOS is able to direct callers to the nearest appropriate medical facility from its database of 68,000 medical facilities worldwide that it audits for quality.

This is drawn upon in cases where travellers call with conditions such as stomach flu, influenza, broken bones and sprains.

For a medical emergency such as a heart attack or stroke, an International SOS doctor will immediately speak to the caller to establish the nature of the condition and ask questions about the caller's medical history.

A customer service executive will activate a local ambulance service and search for a suitable hospital at the same time.

If the caller is in a location where local medical facilities are lacking or unable to offer appropriate care in a timely manner, International SOS will determine the proximity of the nearest medical hub and get the patient there.

International SOS has a fleet of 10 air ambulances, two of which are based in Singapore.

Last year, it handled more than 19,000 medical evacuations or repatriations worldwide.

Other insurers, such as MSIG, use the company as their emergency services provider and will provide customers with a 24-hour hotline to call collect from anywhere in the world.

Finally, there are those who run out of medication.

That happened once to Ms B. Yeo, a managing director at a bank who travels with her husband and children regularly.

She recalled: 'I remember once when I didn't pack the nebuliser and my son developed severe asthma while we were in the middle of the Italian countryside. When we called the ambulance, they said they didn't know how to get to us.'

She gave her son some antihistamines, which helped to relieve his symptoms but took a longer time to work than a nebuliser. This is a device used to administer medication in the form of a mist inhaled into the lungs, commonly used to treat asthma.

She now travels with a nebuliser wherever they go.

Dr Teo said: 'If you rely on a medication for a chronic ailment, it is important to carry more than you need for the period of travel, to cater for delays or changes to your flight schedule.

'It is important to know that not every country carries the medication that you are taking.'

This is something businessman Philip Tan knows first hand.

'When I was stuck for a few days in Italy in 2010, I ran out of my blood pressure medication. Trying to get the same medication proved surprisingly difficult. I could have saved myself so much trouble if I had simply taken more along,' he said.


1 Stomach flu
2 Upper respiratory tract infections
3 Aches, sprains and bone fractures
4 Heart attacks and strokes
5 Running out of medication


Preventing stomach flu and common colds

To avoid gastroenteritis, commonly known as stomach flu, always wash your hands with soap before eating, or use a hand sanitising gel or lotion.

Gastroenteritis can be caused by viruses like the rotavirus or bacteria such as E. coli. These are usually transmitted through contaminated food or water, or close contact with someone who is infected.

Select food that is thoroughly cooked while it is fresh and served right away, since heat usually kills bacteria.

Avoid undercooked or raw meat, fish or shellfish, even if they are local delicacies.

Avoid food sold by street vendors or other potentially unhygienic establishments.

If you are not used to eating spicy or greasy food, avoid it if possible.

Eat only raw fruit you have peeled yourself. If you are not certain about the quality of the water, stick to bottled water.

To avoid the common cold, wash your hands frequently or use a hand sanitising gel or lotion.

If you have symptoms of influenza - fever, cough, muscle ache, runny nose and sore throat - prior to travel, it is strongly recommended that you seek treatment and be cleared for travel by your doctor before embarking on the trip, said Dr David Teo, International SOS' medical director for Singapore and Malaysia.

It is also advisable to take along medication for children, medicine for fever and antihistamines to treat runny nose and allergy symptoms.

To prevent aches, sprains and fractures

Plane journeys can be arduous, especially for older people who have aches and pains. To be comfortable, wear clothing that does not constrict the body anywhere.

It is important to prevent deep vein thrombosis - a life-threatening condition caused by a blood clot forming in a deep vein - on long flights. Get up periodically to walk or do lower leg exercises at your seat.

Wear compression stockings if you are going on a long flight.

Avoid alcohol and keep well-hydrated. If you are planning on taking part in vigorous activities such as skiing, be mindful that you could sustain sprains or fractures if you are new to the sport, and take measures to reduce the chances of this happening.

Preventing strokes and heart attacks

Dr Teo said: "If you have any underlying medical condition, consult your doctor to ensure you are fit to travel."

It is important that the condition is stable before you travel. "Even if you are certified fit to travel, there are limitations to the activities you can do in your travel," said Dr Teo.

For example, someone with heart disease should avoid strenuous activities such as trekking.

It might also be wise to avoid less developed countries without good medical facilities. If you need to travel to a less developed country, take along sufficient medication as the drugs you need may not be readily available there.

To avoid running out of medication

Dr Teo recommends that you have at least two days' worth of medication in your hand luggage in case your checked bags are lost or delayed.

Carry a list of all your medications and their scientific names (brand names differ from country to country), as well as extra doses and copies of each prescription.

General tips

If you are travelling to a place known for street crime, arrange for transportation before you arrive. Get recommendations from your hotel for reliable cab companies.

Do this even if you plan to arrive in the day, as your flight may get delayed.

Avoid spending more time than necessary in the pick-up and drop-off zones in front of the airport.

Maintain a low profile at all times by speaking discreetly about your plans with companions, airport and hotel staff, wearing minimal jewellery and staying away from bright colours and tour agency logos that would identify you as a tourist.

Be careful when driving after a long flight, especially in an unfamiliar place.

Aim to drink 1.5 to 2 litres of water each day - more if you are in a hot and/or dry climate.

Eat five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables per day to get the vitamins your body needs.



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