Anyone planning a trip should also pack a medicine or two in their suitcase for unforeseen incidents. Recommendations in this regard are made by Dr. Grit Berger. She is the head pharmacist at the Central Clinic Bad Berka. In the interview she talks about the importance of the vaccination certificate, water disinfection tablets and the correct storage of medicines.
Miss Dr. Berger, what should be in a well-stocked first-aid kit?
First of all, you should of course think of all those medications that you take regularly, e.g. something for certain patients for blood pressure, gout, or insulin for diabetics. In the second step, it makes sense to check your vaccination certificate once. For example, it says whether you received the hepatitis A vaccination. This is relevant, for example, when traveling to a country where seafood is eaten. You can also check the yellow booklet to see whether pertussis (whooping cough), severe wound spasms and diphtheria have been refreshed.
What if you can’t find your vaccination certificate anymore?
This is a stupid situation because then it is no longer properly documented which vaccinations the patient has already received. In case of loss, you can go to your family doctor, who usually keeps the vaccinations carried out in his file. Or you try to remember when you received a certain vaccination, for example. Basically, it is important to keep the vaccination certificate in a safe place, also because the hospital always asks for it. In any case, it makes sense to make a copy of the document to be on the safe side. The vaccination certificate is just as important as the identity card or driver’s license.
How early should you, for example, take care of the vaccinations recommended for the respective travel destination?
Basically: the sooner, the better. Because the recommended vaccinations can be very different not only from country to country, but even from region to region. It can happen that tropical medicine specialists suggest different vaccinations for different parts of Vietnam. When it comes to their advice, experts often follow the recommendations of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO). The fact is: some vaccinations take a certain amount of time to take effect. There may also be delivery bottlenecks for vaccines. As a traveler, you should always keep all of this in mind. Therefore, I advise: As soon as you start planning a trip, you should ask your doctor or pharmacist which vaccinations are recommended for that particular location.
What costs do the health insurance companies cover?
That differs from one cash register to another. We pharmacists always need a prescription for prescription drugs. Vaccinations against diphtheria or whooping cough are completely covered by health insurances, because these are also mandatory for our region. A malaria vaccination, on the other hand, will usually have to be paid for by the patient himself or at least in part. However, I would advise everyone to take one of these with you on a trip to malaria areas as a “standby”, it would be worth my health to me. Painkillers, ear drops, nasal drops or plasters, on the other hand, are over-the-counter and can still be used after the trip.
What else is part of the basic equipment of the first-aid kit?
Remedies against insect bites and sunburn are of course compulsory in most holiday destinations where the sun shines. You shouldn’t skimp on the amount you pack. Having something for the pain and fever with you is just as important. If you have a headache or bump somewhere, ibuprofen, paracetamol or a drug containing acetylsalicylic acid such as aspirin can be useful. Perhaps, as a patient, you have already had good experiences with one or the other preparation. Packing one of these is definitely advisable. In addition, I would take a medicine for diarrhea with me on vacation, such as charcoal tablets. Taking medication for nausea and vomiting can also pay off.
And what helps against motion sickness?
If you travel a lot in buses or on ships, I recommend taking travel tablets against nausea, which are also available in the form of chewing gum.
What helps against allergic reactions?
For example, if you are allergic to the sun, react to an unfamiliar meal, or simply suffer from hay fever, you should have an appropriate medication with you that alleviates the suffering. The doctor or pharmacist can give advice here before departure.
What should be considered when traveling by air?
So-called decongestant nasal sprays can be useful here, which also help to equalize pressure. Especially when you have a cold.
Do you have any recommendations ready when you travel to a distant country?
One should seek expert advice as early as possible. For example, you are then told which vaccinations are needed (vaccination prophylaxis), for example malaria protection in certain regions of the world. Basically, I always recommend taking hand disinfectants with you on a trip, because most germs are spread through the hands. Especially when the country you are traveling to is one that does not meet the hygienic standards of Central Europe, you should think about it.
What do you think of water purification tablets?
That depends a lot on the region. If you are on holiday in a well-kept hotel, they are probably hardly necessary. On a backpack tour into the outback, of course, it is more likely.
How should you store the medication in your own first-aid kit?
Medicines are often very sensitive to light and temperature. It’s best to keep them at 25 degrees. But this is only a guideline. It doesn’t matter if they lie a little warmer for a few days. Cooler storage is usually not a problem anyway, as long as the preparations are not frozen. You should definitely not do this with vaccines and insulins. Because in the case of intense heat, chemical conversion or decomposition processes can take place, which can also impair the effectiveness of the medication. For this reason alone, you should never place your first-aid kit on the rear shelf of your car or other places that are exposed to strong sunlight. Instead, it makes sense to use a cool box or refrigerator. They should not be placed directly next to the cooling unit or a cold pack, otherwise there is a risk of freezing again. If you have an air-conditioned hotel room, it is best to store medicines there, and not in a daypack. Basically, at home and on vacation: Room temperature is ideal for storing most preparations. You should only use a cooler bag for insulins. A look at the outer packaging also helps to find the correct storage temperature for the particular drug.
What do you have to consider when traveling by air? Topic: Baggage Regulation …
In principle, you can take all medication, including narcotics, with you for personal use. On request, however, you have to prove this personal requirement to the security staff at the airport. For this, it can be useful to have a doctor issue you before you start your journey, which clearly documents that the medication you are taking with you serves to cover your personal needs. For example, it could say that the patient needs an insulin pen. People with pacemakers or implants always have their passport with them. I would strongly advise pain reliever patients who have to take preparations that fall under the Narcotics Act to speak to their doctor in good time and have a documentary certificate issued.
What if you realize while on vacation that you have forgotten an important medication?
Basically, in such a situation, I would rely on the advice of the staff at the local pharmacy or the attending doctor. Some drugs do not require a prescription abroad.
Which website do you like to refer to when people come to you who are planning to travel?
For example the website of the Federal Association of German Pharmacists’ Associations (ABDA). But the health insurance companies also often have useful checklists online and offline. In principle, you can of course also go to the pharmacy and name your travel destination. If an antibiotic or medication for malaria stand-by therapy is recommended there, a doctor’s prescription is required.
Do you have one last hot tip for anyone planning a trip?
I would recommend that you write down what kind of ailments they help against on the package of any medication you are not sure about. In addition, it makes sense to ensure in good time before departure that none of the medication has already expired. Preparations whose shelf life limit has been exceeded should no longer be taken.
Your expert for pharmaceuticals
Dr. Grit Berger
Head pharmacist at the Central Clinic Bad Berka
Checklist travel pharmacy
Our checklist for your first-aid kit will help you to relax and prepare for your vacation.
(To view the checklist in large format, please click on the picture.)
Download checklist for printing (PDF).