At Summit Travel Health, it is our mission to help our patients see the world, safely! It is important for travellers to take preventative steps to ensure their health and safety while they are exploring. There are many preventable illnesses that travellers can contract without the proper travel shots and immunizations. Here are some interesting epidemic disease statistics and facts we compiled:
Epidemic disease stats in 2018 are as follows:
Tetanus (0.5 million)
Measles (1 million)
HIV/AIDS (1 million)
Hepatitis B (1.1 million)
Malaria (2.1 million)
Diarrhea (3.1 million)
Tuberculosis (3.1 million)
Respiratory Infections (4.4 million)
Education is paramount in our effort to help our travellers – the first step is understanding localized diseases and how to best avoid these destination-specific health risks. Step two is taking the proper precautions, like meeting with a Travel Medicine Consultant, and carefully planning your destination itinerary.
If you’re visiting the Americas, it’s recommended you get a number of immunizations to protect from common diseases:
- Tetanus and Diphtheria
- Whooping cough (Pertussis)
- Chickenpox (varicella)
- Hepatitis B
- Mumps and rubella (MMR)
- Hepatitis A
- Typhoid Fever
Depending on your itinerary, it can be a good idea to also have a rabies vaccination. Rabies vaccinations can also be administered post-exposure, as long it is in a timely manner. Yellow fever is also a risk in some parts of South America. Cholera is common in developing countries and if left untreated, can result in death.
Travellers who are visiting some parts of South America, like Peru, can be at risk of contracting the Zika virus. The virus can cause fever, rashes, severe headaches, joint pain and/or muscular or bone pain. There are no vaccines. You must avoid getting bitten by mosquitos. We suggest always travelling with mosquito repellant.
Depending on where you’re visiting in Europe, it’s a good idea to ensure you have your immunizations up to date. Ticks can be common in hot weather. Tetanus can be a risk. While Europe doesn’t have as many risks at the moment, it is best to get vaccinated and follow safety precautions.
There are many health risks when visiting Africa:
Health tips for Africa:
- Make sure you are drinking clean water, this presents the largest risk.
- Watch what you eat, safe and packaged foods can be a safe option.
- Manage your hygiene - Hygiene can be an issue that results in the spreading of diseases,
- Watch where you spend time: spending time in poor and unsanitary conditions isn’t advised
- Avoid animals as much as possible: infected blood can spread quickly
- Watch out for mosquitos; mosquito bites can be a large health risk.
- Do not let cuts and burns become contaminated
Asia has many common diseases and things that travellers must be aware of:
- Typhoid - All countries except Singapore.
- Leptospirosis - risk areas in Thailand and Malaysia.
- Hepatitis A - All countries.
- Hepatitis B - All countries.
- HIV - All countries.
- Influenza - All countries.
- Rabies - All countries except Singapore and Brunei.
There aren't as many common diseases in Antarctica, but taking precautions is still important. It’s advisable to get a tetanus shot if visiting Antarctica. Boosters must be up to date, although your risk can depend on your lifestyle and any underlying medical conditions. No other boosters are advised. No yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to visit Antarctica.
There are many common diseases to be aware of if you’re visiting Australia:
- Diphtheria - if spending time in poor, overcrowded living conditions, your risk of this is much higher as it is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets.
- Japanese Encephalitis - this is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Your risk is higher for long stay travellers to rural areas. Taking the precautions to avoid mosquito bites as outlined elsewhere in the article is the only way to avoid this.
- Tetanus - can be spread through contamination of cuts, burns and wounds. Spores are found in soil worldwide.
- Rabies is present in bats in Australia. However, this is not a major risk to most travellers.
It is recommended you get a rabies vaccine if you fall into one of the below categories:
- Travellers involved in outdoor and other activities in remote areas. Adventure travel and caving could put you at risk.
- People who will be working with or around bats (such as wildlife professionals and researchers).
Understanding Other Diseases That Are Rare Is Important
- Filariasis is a mosquito-borne disease that can cause disfiguring swellings; prevented by avoiding mosquitos.
- Typhus Murine typhus is spread by the bite of a flea and scrub typhus is spread via a mite; the symptoms include fever, muscle pains and a rash.
- Melioidosis is found in Thailand only, and is an infection contracted by skin contact with soil; symptoms are similar to tuberculosis.
- Japanese Encephalitis is a risk in parts of Southeast Asia. It’s a viral disease, transmitted by mosquitoes but most cases occur in rural areas.
- Schistosomiasis is at risk in Laos, Philippines, Vietnam and Sulawesi. This is a parasite that enters the skin after swimming in contaminated water.
- Measles are a problem in some parts of Southeast Asia. They are contagious and spread through coughing and sneezing.
- Malaria is a risk in many tropical countries. It is common in rural areas and can be fatal. Seeking medical advice before travel is a must. It is important to monitor health following you return home as well, as symptoms may be delayed.
- Strongyloides is a risk in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand. It is spread through skin contact with soil.
- Dengue Fever is in many tropical countries and is a mosquito borne disease. Being vigilant with mosquitos, as mentioned above is a must. This isn’t a rural issue. Southeast Asia's cities, such as Bangkok and Singapore, as well as Thailand’s southern islands and Chiang Mai province are high-risk areas.
- Hepatitis E is a risk in all countries, transmitted through food and water. It is especially important that pregnant women are aware of this, as it can result in death for both mother and baby.
- STDs are a risk in all countries. STDs that are found include herpes, warts, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
- Giardiasis is a common parasite amongst travellers. Signs include nausea, bloating, excess gas, fatigue and intermittent diarrhea. Although the parasite will go away on its own after months, it’s better to seek treatment.
- Amoebic Dysentery comes with symptoms fever, bloody diarrhea and generally feeling unwell. It is commonly diagnosed in South East Asia. Complications will occur if left untreated.
Avoiding Mosquito Bites Is Critical
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites by taking the following steps:
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET on your skin.
- Sleep under a mosquito net that has permethrin on it.
- Choose accommodation with screens and fans.
- Use permethrin on clothing when in high-risk areas.
- Wear long sleeves and pants in light colors to stay cool.
- Use mosquito coils.
- Spray your room with insect repellent before going out for your evening meal.
General Travel Medicine Guidelines
If a disease outbreak in an area appears to be particularly bad, it could be best to avoid that area altogether. However, many diseases on this list can be avoided by practicing good hygiene and taking precautionary measures with a travel medicine specialist. It sounds like common sense, but staying out of unsanitary conditions, and remaining vigilant against mosquitos are two major drivers of travel health.
In some cases, some disease exposure may be unavoidable, so having emergency numbers and knowing where your nearest medical centre is will help you to get treatment ASAP. It is important to note that not all diseases have treatment, so vigilance remains your best bet. It is makes sense, travel insurance can be a good safeguard because it can help cover medical and emergency costs if you do encounter a health issue while you are abroad.
Remember, the above information is just a general guide. It’s a good idea to stay as up to date as you can if you plan on travelling to countries on the list so that you can take important precautions and stay healthy. If you’re unsure, it’s always worth visiting a travel medical professional who will be able to advise you further.
The traveller’s lifestyle is all about carefree living, but don’t be carefree when it comes to your health. See the world, Safely.