When you go overseas, you may be exposed to a wide range of infectious diseases. Before you go, learn about the health risks in your destination. See your health provider early so you can get vaccinated and take other steps to reduce the risk of getting sick while you're away.
Explore this page to learn about:
- infectious disease risks overseas
- insect-borne diseases
- water or foodborne diseases
- contact, droplet or airborne diseases
- vaccine-preventable diseases
- blood-borne diseases
- sexually transmissible infections (STIs)
- diseases spread by animals
If you get an infectious disease overseas, your health and life could be at serious risk. You may need urgent medical assistance. Consular services are limited how and when we can help.
Infectious disease risks overseas
You have a higher risk of contracting infectious diseases in some destinations. This can be due to water and sanitation issues, insects that carry diseases or low vaccination rates. Infectious diseases exist in developed as well as developing countries.
Do your research, so you know the risks before you go. Then you can take preventative measures to reduce them.
- Know the risks before you go.
- Read our travel advice for your destination, see if there are any particular health risks or vaccinations listed.
- Talk to your doctor, tell them where you're going and ask their advice on prevention.
- Get your vaccinations well before you go, some take 6-8 weeks to work.
Insect-borne diseases overseas
Insects can carry some diseases and transmit them between people. Insects can also transmit some diseases between animals and people.
Australians are more likely to get an insect-borne disease when travelling in tropical climates. This includes parts of Asia, Africa, Central America and the Pacific. Australians are also at risk in parts of Europe and the United States. Risks may differ depending on your planned activities.
Some insect-borne diseases to avoid are:
If you're visiting countries where yellow fever is present, you'll have to show a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate to re-enter Australia. Your airline may also ask for a certificate before letting you board. See the Department of Health's advice on yellow fever.
If you're pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, your unborn child face may additional risks from Zika virus. The Department of Health advises pregnant women to defer non-essential travel to areas affected by Zika virus. Discuss your individual risk with your doctor.
Consult your doctor for information on risks at your destination.
Reducing your risk of
You can get vaccinated against some, not all, insect-borne illnesses. Take the following steps to avoid insect bites.
- Cover exposed skin with light-coloured long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use insect repellents. If you use both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and then the repellent.
- Treat your clothing and gear with insecticides.
- Sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms. Use bed nets if you can't keep mosquitoes from coming inside the room.
- Consider taking anti-malarial medication.
Water or foodborne diseases
Water or foodborne diseases are common in many countries. You can catch them from:
- drinking or using contaminated water
- drinking any drink with ice cubes made with tap water
- eating food washed with tap water
- brushing your teeth or washing your face with tap water
- eating contaminated food, including meals prepared by people following poor hygiene practices
- taking part in activities in contaminated water, such as swimming or water sports
Some water and foodborne diseases include:
- infections causing gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhoea)
- salmonellosis (including typhoid and paratyphoid)
- hepatitis A
- polio (poliomyelitis)
A less common, though highly contagious and deadly disease, is cholera.
Reduce your risk from water or foodborne diseases
You can get vaccinated against some water and foodborne infectious diseases, including hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera.
There are many other preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk of infection. Some are just common sense, like washing your hands and sticking to boiled, bottled or treated water. Others are less obvious, especially for first-time travellers.
If you're in a destination where water and foodborne diseases are common:
- avoid drinking, or using tap water to clean your teeth
- avoid ice cubes, some restaurants may use water straight from the tap
- avoid uncooked and under cooked food, or food that may have been left sitting for a while
- avoid fresh salads and raw vegetables
- avoid contact with water or soil that may be contaminated with urine or stools
- in some places you may need to avoid swimming or wading in any fresh water
Contact, droplet and airborne diseases
Some diseases can spread:
- directly, through close contact with a person who is coughing, sneezing, or unwell
- indirectly, between people through something an infected person touched after having coughed or blown their nose
These can be referred to as diseases that are spread by contact, droplets or through the air.
- coughs and colds
- chickenpox (varicella)
- tuberculosis (TB)
- Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
Reducing your risk of contact, droplet and airborne diseases
Protect yourself from contact, droplet and airborne diseases:
- stay up to date with your vaccinations for measles, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis and influenza and other vaccinations recommended for your situation
- wash your hands regularly, or use hand sanitiser if soap and water aren't available.
- avoid close contact with people who are sick, or showing early symptoms
- avoid close contact with wild or domestic animals
Some diseases can be prevented through vaccination. It's important to make sure that you've been fully vaccinated in accordance with the national immunisation program. Also, get vaccinated against any vaccine-preventable diseases that you may be at risk of due to your destination, activities, or other medical conditions.
Ensuring you're fully vaccinated can protect both you and those around you.
It's important to talk to your doctor early so they can provide advice on the best way to protect yourself from infection at your destination.
Some vaccine-preventable diseases are:
- pertussis (whooping cough)
- meningococcal disease
- yellow feverimmunisation-for-travel
Blood-borne diseases overseas
Some infectious diseases can be transmitted by blood. This can be:
- direct, when an infected person's blood comes into direct contact with another person's blood, mouth or eyes
- indirect, when blood is transferred through an object such as a needle or razor blade
- through bodily fluids (see also sexually transmissible infections)
Common blood-borne diseases overseas are:
Reduce your risk of blood-borne diseases
You can get vaccinated against some blood-borne diseases. Reduce your risk of infection by:
- avoiding contact with any objects that could be contaminated with blood or body fluids
- avoiding sharing needles, syringes, or other injecting equipment
- avoiding tattooing or other procedures that involve unsterile or reused equipment
- practising safe sex
- covering wounds and cuts with a waterproof dressing
- avoiding sharing toothbrushes, razors and other personal items that may be contaminated with blood
- using gloves and other relevant protection when helping with first aid
These diseases may not have symptoms in the early stages. If you believe you may have been exposed, seek medical advice early as preventative treatment may be available.
See healthdirect's advice on travel health.
Sexually transmissible infections (STIs)
STIs are infections or diseases passed on during unprotected sex, including vaginal, anal and oral sex with an infected partner. Some STIs can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact when there is skin-to-skin contact with a persons infected genitals or mouth.
While not generally referred to as an STI, other diseases can be spread through sexual contact. For example, in addition to being waterborne diseases, shigellosis and hepatitis A can also be spread through sexual activity, including oral and anal sex.
Reducing your risk of STIs
There aren't generally vaccines to protect against STIs. This means you must take preventative measures to reduce your risk of infection.
Reduce your risk of infection by:
- taking and using your own condoms, from a quality manufacturer, when overseas
STIs may not have symptoms. If you believe you may have been exposed, seek medical advice.
Diseases spread by animals
Some animals can spread disease through close contact or through bites. These diseases include:
Reduce your risk of infection by:
- being vaccinated for rabies before you go, if recommended
- avoiding contact with sick animals
- washing your hands well after contact with animals
- not eating raw or undercooked meat or animal products
If you have a pre-existing illness, you may need to avoid all contact with particular animals. Seek medical advice.
If you're bitten, scratched or licked on an open wound by an animal:
- use appropriate first aid
- wash the wound out well with soap and water for at least 10 minutes
- use antiseptic solution
- seek rapid medical advice regarding the prevention of rabies, tetanus, and bacterial infection
Consular services and infectious diseases
You're responsible for protecting yourself against infectious diseases.
Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can’t do to help you overseas.
What we can do
- We can update our travel advice if we learn of a disease outbreak.
- We can give you a list of local English-speaking doctors and health services.
- We can help you get in contact with family and friends in Australia.
- We can provide some emergency support if we declare a disease outbreak as a crisis.
What we can't do
- We can't tell you of every infectious disease in your destination.
- We can't give you medical advice.
- We can't tell you all the vaccinations you may need.
- We can't tell you what to do or take to protect your health in your destination.
- We can't guarantee your health in any destination.
- We can't pay your medical costs if you get an infectious disease while you're away.
- Read about travelling with medication and medical equipment.
- See our advice on travelling while pregnant.
- Learn about medical tourism.
- See our health advice for everyone.
- Read advice on reducing health and other risks when travelling with children
- See our advice on taking care of your mental health
- See our advice for travellers with a disability
- Read about health risks in all your destinations.
- Understand how and when consular services can help Australians overseas.
- See the suite travel health advice on (Department of Health).
- Learn about infectious diseases and travel vaccinations (Department of Health).
- See a range of advice on international travel and health, including information on infectious diseases and vaccinations (World Health Organization).
- Read advice on food safety while travelling (Victorian Department of Health and Human Services).
- Learn about immunising your child from (Department of Health).
- See information about insect-borne (vector based) diseases (World Health Organisation).