Six of the most common travel illnesses

Traveling to different parts of the world is exhilarating and the last thing that any of us want to think about when planning a trip is the potential for falling ill while we’re away. Nevertheless, it pays to be aware of the potential health hazards you may face in different parts of the world so that you can be prepared for them, well in advance.

With that in mind, we have put together a list of 6 of the most common travel illnesses and how to manage them.

Traveler’s Diarrhea

A traveler may become infected with diarrhea when consuming food or water that has been tainted with fecal matter. The younger generation, the elderly as well as those who already have a compromised immune system are most at risk. When a person does not practice basic hygiene and has fecal matter on their hands and then handles food and water, thesemay become contaminated as a result. Restaurants & street vendors are well known establishments for this specific category of food poisoning. Symptoms include abdominal cramping, bloating, nausea, loose, watery stools, the urge to have a bowel movement, fever, vomiting, headaches, and in some cases, blood in the stools.

The high-risk areas for traveler’s diarrhea include:

  • Asia
  • The Middle East
  • Africa
  • Latin America
  • Mexico

To manage this ailment, ensure that you stay hydrated by drinking bottled water or sports drinks from a reliable source. It is advisable to bring anti-diarrheal, antipyretics (to treat fever) and anti-nausea medications along with you from home. This will save you having to find them in a foreign country.

Norovirus

Norovirus is a highly contagious illness that is mostly contracted during the colder, winter months in each part of the world. It normally affects those who stay indoors and are within close range of one another. The bacterial virus which is transmitted through contacted with an infected person, contaminated food and water or contact with contaminated surfaces, causes severe stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Younger children and the elderly are most at risk and these symptoms can become rather serious.

Most common areas:

  • Cold regions
  • Confined areas like that of cruise ships

There is no specific treatment for Norovirus. If you contract this illness while traveling, stay hydrated with bottled water or sports drinks and a mild over-the-counter electrolyte replacement fluid if you have access to one. If you become severely dehydrated, seek urgent medical care.

Malaria

There is a major concern for people who are travelling in subtropical areas known for Malaria. Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease which can be life threatening if left untreated. The female mosquito transmits the infection from person to person.  People who are travelling to malaria endemic regions need detailed information about the correct chemoprophylaxis (a drug to prevent the disease) that would need to be taken to ensure that the are protected against this disease. Symptoms include chills, nausea, fever, and flu-type symptoms that would only generally show up 1week to 1 month after you’ve been bitten by the mosquito. It’s vitally important to discuss preventative measures with your doctor and also get a prescription for anti-malaria tablets before your trip. It is extremely important to take these according to your doctor’s orders. You will generally need to take them both before and after your trip.

The high-risk areas:

  • Asia
  • The Caribbean
  • Central & South America
  • Eastern Europe
  • South Pacific
  • Africa

A malaria infection requires urgent medical attention. If you visit a malaria area and experience the symptoms above, consult a doctor immediately.

Tetanus

Tetanus (‘lockjaw’) is a preventable disease if a person acquires the correct vaccine for it. It is a type of bacteria that is commonly found in the likes of soil, manure, dirt and dust and when it comes into contact with a person through broken skin, it attacks the nerves. A person may experience stiffness in their muscles which causes spasms in the back, neck, chest, buttocks and can also result in difficulty swallowing. It most cases this disease is fatal especially if infection occurs due to an animal bite, burn or open wound. Infants, and people over 60 years of age who have not had the vaccine are at higher risk.

The high-risk areas:

  • 3rd world and developing countries that have insufficient immunization access.

If you have never had a tetanus shot, or if your last one was more than 10 years ago, you should have a tetanus vaccine before leaving for your trip, especially if you are visiting a high-risk area where access to health facilities is limited.

Hives

Whether you are on a hiking trail, touring a new country on a beautiful day out, or simply having a picnic outside, breaking out in urticaria (hives) can put a damper on your trip Now you may be wondering – what do hives look like and how do I know if I have them? You’ll find the answers here.

While this itchy, uncomfortable and often painful condition can appear anywhere on the human body such as the arms, legs, mouth, face your torso and even the ears, generally it is not too serious and can be treated relatively easily.

A few of the triggers include:

  • Pollen, Insect bites and stings
  • Plants such as poison ivy or poison oak, as well as nettles
  • Sunlight and even water
  • Exercise and sweating excessively (which results in body heat-inducing urticaria)
  • Being exposed to excessive temperatures (hot and cold)
  • Wearing tight clothing that could result in areas of your body having a constant source of pressure.
  • Stress – so try not to let your stress levels rise while on your trip

As part of your travel medical kit, you should keep an antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications on hand. These are usually sold over-the-counter and will aid in the treatment of hives, should you suffer from an outbreak while you’re away.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis, known as TB, is an extremely contagious disease that is of a high risk to people travelling in countries where Tuberculosis is commonly found. The disease is spread amongst people when an infected person coughs, sings, talks, and sneezes, releasing infected droplets of saliva as he/she does so spreading the infection through the air. Bovine tuberculosis is another strain of TB causing bacteria and can be spread to humans through the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products.

Some of the symptoms include chest pain, coughing for periods longer than three weeks at a time, bringing up blood while coughing, being tired, losing weight unexpectedly, loss of appetite, fever, the chills and night sweats. It must be said that not all people who have TB become sick.

Most common areas:

  • Asia
  • Africa
  • South & Central America

According to the CDC, 60% of the globally reported TB cases are endemic to India, Pakistan, Indonesia, China, Nigeria and South Africa.

If you’re traveling to an area where you may be exposed to people with TB for prolonged periods, have a tuberculin skin test (TST) or TB blood test before your departure and two to two and half months after your return. While a vaccine for TB is available, it is not recommended in all countries due to its limited effectiveness in preventing the disease.

MyMed.com has all the information you need on medical health related topics while travelling.

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