Overseas medical procedures: be mindful of unwanted antibiotic-resistant souvenirs

28 March 2014

With news emerging this week that health insurers will provide a ‘guarantee’ on the quality of some overseas medical procedures, NPS MedicineWise is reminding Australians that if you’re travelling overseas for surgery there is never any guarantee you won’t pick up an unwanted antibiotic resistant infection.

NPS MedicineWise clinical adviser Dr Andrew Boyden says that people are increasingly travelling from developed nations to seek medical treatments in centres in South and Central America, South Africa and Asia. However, in a survey of 1000 Australians^ NPS MedicineWise found that half of travellers have never considered the possibility that they could contract an antibiotic-resistant infection whilst overseas.

“We know that overseas surgery is becoming more popular, perhaps because it’s cheaper, more accessible or for privacy reasons. Increasingly people are heading overseas for procedures like cosmetic surgery, dentistry, fertility treatment, major joint replacement, cardiac surgery and organ transplant,” says Dr Boyden.

“But Australians need to be aware that over-the-counter availability of antibiotics in some regions of the world, coupled with different infrastructure, policies and practices in overseas health facilities, have contributed to the emergence of so-called ‘superbugs’ in some healthcare systems.

“What’s more, medical tourism packages are often combined with a vacation. People recovering from surgery may be exposed to a broader range of antibiotic resistant bugs in the community.. This is a particular concern in countries where multi-drug resistant organisms are rife.”

NPS MedicineWise recommends that anyone considering medical procedures overseas also considers the risks of visiting healthcare facilities that may not have the same standard of infection control or antibiotic regulation as facilities in Australia.

“If you do undergo procedures while travelling have a checkup with your doctor when you return. It’s important to make sure they know you’ve undergone a medical procedure overseas and where you’ve travelled — especially if you feel unwell,” says Dr Boyden. “Your doctor will need to keep in mind that you may be carrying antibiotic resistant bugs for an extended period after returning from your trip.”

NPS MedicineWise has these tips for people travelling for medical procedures

  • Stay up to date with routine vaccinations according to the National Immunisation Program, as well as any vaccinations relevant for a particular travel destination
  • Practise good hygiene such as washing hands before eating
  • Drink bottled or boiled water if from an untreated source
  • Avoid ice and eat fruit that can be peeled. Avoid leafy vegetables, which may have been fertilised with animal manure. Do not eat raw or reheated food
  • Practise safe sex

See your doctor if you become unwell on returning home. If you undergo any medical procedures after returning home, tell your doctor where you have recently travelled.

To find out more about how you can help stop the spread of antibiotic resistance visit www.nps.org.au/antibiotics

For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) . Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).

^Poll of 1000 Australians aged 18 and over conducted by UMR research in July 2013.


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

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