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Before you go: First Aid Kits

"What should I take along" is a common question we get asked while people are planning a trip abroad. "That depends" is my usual answer. It depends upon all of those risk factors, like where are you going, for how long, why, etc. So the person who plans to climb Mount Everest as the expedition doctor or sail around the world for a year might need more than the businessperson off to Bangkok for a week.

My first suggestion is to go to your medicine cabinet and see what you normally keep handy around the house. This included both medications and medical supplies. Then consider whether you plan to be far enough from decent medical care that you'd better take along what you would normally get at the drugstore or emergency department. Are you responsible for others, like your children, fellow climbers, or a group tour? Then you had better anticipate their needs as well.

The following is a list of supplies and medications that you might consider taking along. Remember, what you need depends upon the nature of your travels. First aid kits should ideally weigh less than fifty pounds, as you have to carry them wherever you go, and you will still need room for essentials like underwear. Most medications are available over the counter without a prescription in lesser developed countries. One might have some concern about the authenticity of certain medications. As well, medications which we might not consider safe at home, such as the antibiotic chloramphenicol, are used widely in many poorer countries.

fiirst aid kitThere are commercially available kits, such as the Steri Aid Kit, which contains sterile supplies such as syringes, intravenous needles and suture material. This would be appropriate for someone travelling off of the beaten path, someone who is responsible for a group of travellers, or someone who distrusts needles around the world. Remember, if you are carrying syringes into foreign countries, you must carry a letter, preferably with lots of official looking stamps, explaining why you are carrying them.

The following is a brief list of some of the more common and useful things to take along. If you plan to be looking after broken bones, cardiac arrests, cerebral edema and gunshot wounds, sit down with your doctor to plan a more extensive list. But remember the fifty pound rule. If you can only pack one item, make it your Swiss Army knife!

Suggested Medications

  • analgesics (Tylenol, ASA, codeine)
  • antinauseant / motion sickness (Gravol, Transderm V patches)
  • antimalarials (discuss with medical professional)
  • antidiarrheal (Imodium, Lomotil, Pepto-Bismol); antibiotic such as Cipro, Zithromax)
  • rehydration salts (Gastrolyte)
  • antifungal cream (Canestan)
  • antihistamine (Benadryl)
  • "beesting" kit (Epipen - for those with a history of anaphylactic reactions)
  • topical antibiotic (Polysporin, Fucidin, Bactroban)
  • sunscreen
  • altitude sickness (Diamox)
  • usual prescription and non-prescription medications used regularly

Suggested Supplies

  • antiseptic
  • bandaids
  • tensor bandage
  • sterile needles, suture supplies (e.g. Steri Aid Kit)
  • tweezers
  • Swiss Army knife
  • insect repellent
  • mosquito net
  • water purifier, iodine tablets
  • thermometer
Content (c) Mark Wise
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