Thousands return from abroad with tropical diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis because they fail to get inoculated, says report

British holidaymakers are putting their lives at risk because they are travelling abroad without protecting themselves against serious and potentially fatal diseases.

British holidaymakers are putting their lives at risk because they are travelling abroad without protecting themselves against serious and potentially fatal diseases.

More than half of Britons travelling to high-risk areas fail to take precautions against common conditions such as hepatitis A, typhoid and malaria, which can cause long-term illness and result in death, says a report published yesterday at the start of an awarenesscampaign.

Every year, 1,100 British travellers contract malaria, a condition that causes shivering and aching muscles, and in some cases can affect the liver, brain and blood, often resulting in death. A further 180 people return to Britain each year with typhoid fever, a bacterial gut infection causing severe stomach cramps, constipation, a rash and confusion and inserious cases can cause internal haemorrhage.

The latest figures show that for every planeload of 333 unprotected holidaymakers returning from a country where there is a risk of hepatitis A, one person will have contracted the disease. Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver, causing nausea, loss of appetite and jaundice. There is no treatment of the disease and sufferers take up to six months to return to normal health.

The number of foreign trips people take has increased five-fold in the past 30 years, with over 54 million trips being made abroad each year. Two-thirds of these are holidays, while 16 per cent are business trips. This explosion in international travel has led to an increase in the number of cases of people suffering from exotic diseases.

Doctors said yesterday that last-minute holiday deals, a lack of awareness about destinations and the growing number of people taking "exotic" holidays are all to blame for the large number of people who are failing to protect themselves.

Based on interviews with nearly 4,000 adults, the report shows that each year more than one in 10 people, or 5.4 million, visit areas where hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid, amongthe most common vaccinepreventable diseases, are rife. More than half, 2.75 million, travelled to "high risk" areas unprotected on their last trip.

The report, commissioned by SmithKline Beecham, showed that just under one-quarter of unprotected travellers visiting at-risk destinations failed to get vaccinated because they were unaware of the risks and nearly one-third of them considered risks to their well-being too low to justify vaccination.

Launching the "Ticket to Health" travel health awareness campaign, the actress Joanna Lumley said: "Abroad is not a strange playground or a party place where you can just sip pina coladas. It is serious. A glass of gin with ice in it can make you very ill."

She urged people to visit their doctors eight weeks before travelling abroad. "It is a shame that so many risk having their holiday marred by ill-health. These cannot only spoil a dream holiday but may often have longer-term effects once we get home."

Leaflets containing a guide to safer holidays are being distributed to more than one million travellers by the Association of British Travel Agents, which is running the Ticket to Health campaign alongside the Primary Care Virology Group. Dr Nigel Higson, the group's chairman, said: "The majority of health problems that can affect holidaymakers when abroad are largely preventable.

"The message of the campaign is a simple: if you are travelling abroad and think you may be at risk of travel-related diseases go and visit your GP or local travel clinic, ideally at least eight weeks before you travel," Dr Higson said.