Avoiding health problems

If you become ill

If you become ill while staying in a hotel, ask the receptionist to call a doctor. If you need urgent attention, contact the emergency services or visit the emergency department of the nearest hospital. If you have time, try to get help and advice from a doctor or nurse who speaks the same language as you – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may be able to help you with this.

Contacting relatives

Keep the names and addresses of family and friends with your passport, so that British Consular officials can contact them if you need their help. It is important to keep these details up-to-date each time you travel.

If you need to return to the UK quickly, you should also contact British Consular officials. They can usually arrange this for you, but you may need to pay a fee.

Travel insurance

Medical treatment abroad could be very expensive. Travel insurance can cover these costs. Take your insurance policy document and helpline number with you when you travel.

Eating and drinking

Wherever you are in the world, be careful about what you eat and drink. Many infectious diseases are spread by contaminated food and water. This includes water in:

  • swimming pools
  • lakes
  • rivers 
  • the sea.

Try not to swallow water when you are swimming.

If you are still at risk of infection, you will need to be very careful about what you eat and drink. Make sure you always follow any advice your cancer team has given you.

Tips for avoiding stomach problems

  • If you are not sure that the drinking water is clean, you should sterilise it. You can do this by boiling it for one minute, or by using a filtering system or sterilisation tablets. At high altitudes, you may need to boil water for longer than usual to sterilise it properly.
  • Use bottled water if you are not sure that the water is clean.
  • Make sure that seals on bottles of water are not broken before opening.
  • Avoid ice, unless you are sure it is made from safe water.
  • Only eat freshly cooked food that has been cooked thoroughly and is still hot.
  • Avoid uncooked food, unless you can peel it or remove the shell yourself.
  • Avoid food that may have been exposed to flies, such as hotel buffets that may have been left out for some time, or food from street traders.
  • Avoid ice cream from unreliable sources, such as kiosks.
  • Avoid or boil unpasteurised milk.
  • Be careful when eating shellfish, as it may contain harmful bacteria. Make sure shellfish is cooked thoroughly, or avoid eating it.


In some countries, many diseases can be spread by insects and ticks. Always use insect repellent, preferably containing at least 50% DEET (diethyl-m-toluamide). This is the main ingredient that makes insect repellent work. Cover your arms and legs with appropriate clothing, especially if you are walking in grassy or wooded areas.


Animal bites and scratches can lead to dangerous infections. It is important to be careful, even with animals that seem harmless. Animals in many regions, including most of Europe and North America, can carry rabies.

If you are scratched or bitten, you should follow these steps:

  1. Clean the wound carefully with soap and water
  2. Apply an antiseptic if you can
  3. See a doctor immediately.

Back to Staying safe

Taking care in the sun

During and after cancer treatment, it‘s very important to protect your skin from the sun.