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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Sexually Transmitted and Blood Borne Infections (including HIV)


If a traveller has casual sex, the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted infection is high. Gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis may cause serious long term disability, especially if treatment is delayed. Chancroid and Lymphogranulonum venereum are a serious risk in poorer countries and is common in sex workers. Hepatitis B and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are also spread sexually. High proportions of sex workers are infected.

It is difficult to be sure about the risk of HIV infection in different parts of the world. Large numbers of the population in many parts of Africa are infected and AIDS is common. Infection is widespread in many countries in Asia and South America.

Precautions to Take

  1. Casual sexual intercourse is risky. Condoms provide good but not complete protection.
  2. The lifestyles associated with drug taking may put the traveller in contact with individuals who have hepatitis C or are HIV positive and should be avoided. Needle sharing is high risk and is to be avoided.
  3. Unless you are absolutely certain that the equipment being used is sterile, procedures such as ear piercing, tattooing, acupuncture, manicure and shaving with open razors should be avoided.
  4. In many developing countries re-use of medical supplies, including needles and syringes is common. Travel packs are available from some chemists and travel clinics, containing sterile injecting equipment for use in an emergency (e.g. when wounds require suturing, an intravenous drip or injections are required or for dental surgery). These needle kits should be supplied with a certificate showing contents and the reason for its purchase, useful for customs clearance.
  5. Blood transfusion: In most of Western Europe, North America, Japan and Australasia all donated blood is now screened for HIV antibodies. However, in most developing countries there may be only the most basic blood transfusion services and much of the blood donated is unscreened. The risks from blood transfusion in such circumstances are high. Points to consider are:
    • Accidents are the commonest reason for needing a blood transfusion.
    • Blood transfusion should only be accepted when essential.
    • Pregnancy or any medical condition which may lead to heavy blood loss, should be taken into account before travelling to destinations where good medical facilities will not be available.
    • Knowing your blood group in advance may make it easier to find a blood donor in an emergency.

For further information on sexual health risks please refer to the Sexual Health Risks advice sheet.

For information on HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) please refer to the HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) Information for Travellers advice sheet.

The Blood Care Foundation

This is an example of an organisation which aims to make reliably screened blood, blood products and sterile equipment available to its members in case of emergency.

Blood is supplied to the nearest scheduled airstrip at points in Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola, Congo, Zaire, Zimbabwe, China, South Korea and Maldives. Clearly however this does not usually help with immediate need for these products, for example, after massive blood loss in an accident.

For further information contact:

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