First Aid box with medicines, thermometer and stethoscope on the beach

From jet lag to mosquito bites, we bust the holiday health myths that could ruin your time away.

Travel smart: stay healthy and happy on your summer holiday

Travel smart: stay healthy and happy on your summer holiday © LuckyImages / Shutterstock

1. Sleep cures jet lag

BUSTED: You may feel like hitting the sack after a long flight, but in fact the best thing to do is to stay active until the correct time to sleep and if possible get outdoors and expose yourself to natural light.

Circadian rhythms can be shifted by daylight, encouraging your body to override its natural inclination to sleep. This will help reduce the time it takes to reset your body clock and adjust to the new time zone.


2. Only dogs carry rabies

BUSTED: Rabies is usually transmitted as a result of a bite from a dog but can be carried in the saliva of any warm-blooded mammal, including cats and bats. You can become infected through a bite or if you’re scratched by an animal that has licked its paw or claws.

It is important to get medical advice without delay if you are bitten. You should wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water for several minutes and apply disinfectant or alcohol. Cover with a simple dressing and seek medical help.


3. I was born in Africa and I think I am still immune to malaria

BUSTED: Any naturally acquired immunity is usually quickly lost on leaving a country and you should always take antimalarials if recommended for your destination.


4. I always take vitamin B1, so I don’t need antimalarials

BUSTED: Some people believe that taking a vitamin B1 or B12 supplement will repel mosquitoes and so help protect against being bitten. There is no evidence at all that this is effective and so it is very important to take any recommended antimalarials and use insect repellents* and other bite-avoidance measures.


5. I didn’t get bitten so I don’t need to keep taking antimalarials

BUSTED: It’s not always possible to see mosquito bites on your skin and you should always continue to take your antimalarials for the length of time instructed after leaving the malaria-infested area.


6. Antimalarial drugs will protect me against the Zika virus

BUSTED: Antimalarials will only help protect you against malaria. Zika is transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes, as are a number of other diseases such as Chikungunya and Dengue.

The peak biting times for mosquitoes that transmit malaria is between dusk and dawn, whereas those transmitting Zika are daytime biting mosquitoes. There are no tablets or vaccines currently available to protect against Zika virus.

You should take precautions to avoid insect bites both day and night. These measures  include using insect repellent containing concentrations of up to 50 per cent DEET*, wearing long-sleeved tops and trousers during the day and evening, sleeping in pyjamas at night under a mosquito net, and closing doors and windows.

There have been a small number of reports of sexual transmission of the Zika virus and women are advised to avoid pregnancy if travelling to an area with active Zika transmission.

Effective contraception and condoms should be used by both partners whilst away and for a further 28 days after return. Pregnant women should avoid travel to a country where there are reports of Zika cases.


Over exposed: check the food you're served hasn't been left uncovered

Over exposed: check the food you’re served hasn’t been left uncovered © / Shutterstock

7. Hotel food is always safer

BUSTED: If a local restaurant cooks food to order, this may be a safer option than eating buffet food that may have been kept warm for some time. Wherever you choose to eat, take care to observe whether food being served has been left uncovered and therefore possibly exposed to flies.


8. I have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) so don’t need travel insurance

BUSTED: The EHIC will not always cover 100 per cent of medical costs. It will also not cover costs such as repatriation, so additional travel insurance is always recommended. Make sure you disclose details of any medical conditions as failure to do so may invalidate the policy in the event of a claim.

*Use biocides safely. Always read the label and product information before use.


For the latest health advice and information for travellers, visit the official NHS Fit For Travel website.

This article originally appeared here, in June 2016.