By Edeline Anne Goh
It’s that time of the year again. The school holidays are here and bags are being packed because you’ve bought tickets for your whole family to explore an exciting, new place and culture!
Everyone hopes for a perfect getaway – a stress-free and smooth holiday with the people you enjoy being with. However, having a great holiday is not just about packing everything you need or planning a perfect itinerary. It’s also about getting to know some of the potential risks related to your holiday destination and this includes communicable diseases.
Unfortunately, getting ill while on a trip isn’t all that uncommon. Your body is exposed to a brand, new environment and if proper procedures – such as good sanitisation – are not practiced, you might just find yourself spending more time ill in your hotel room than out enjoying the sights and sounds.
Communicable diseases are prevalent in both developed and developing countries but tend to be more widespread in the latter. This quick guideline will help you protect and prepare yourself and your family before you set off on your well-earned vacation.
This is a disease caused by the Vibrio cholarae bacteria. Cholera usually spreads through contaminated water or uncooked food. Modern treatments of water and sewage plants have helped to tremendously reduce the spread of this disease in developed countries. However, if you are travelling around Asia, Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa, you should take extra precautionary measures as it is still quite common in these areas.
The symptoms of this disease are diarrhea, nausea and vomiting which can lead to severe dehydration. However, if detected early, cholera is easily treatable.
Wash your hand thoroughly and frequently when travelling. Make sure you carry wet wipes and hand sanitisers with you at all times and use them — especially after you use the washroom. Besides that, avoid raw food and try to drink only clean, bottled water. Oral vaccine is generally not compulsory as travellers are deemed to be at a low-risk for this infection. However, speak to your doctor about protecting yourself against cholera if it is present at your destination.
Hepatitis A and B are both viral diseases of the liver. The former is transmitted via contaminated food and water whereas the latter is through blood or bodily fluids. If you come in contact with the disease, you may experience jaundice, mild fever or you may be asymptomatic. If you do have symptoms, however, they may only become apparent 4 to 6 weeks after you’ve contracted the disease. Hepatitis is present in most countries around the world.
The best way to prevent this disease is by getting yourself vaccinated. Besides that, you should also be cautious of what you eat and drink when you travel because poor sanitisation can lead to the spread of hepatitis. It’s also good to keep in mind that unprotected sex increases your chances of contracting it.
Influenza, which is usually known simply as ‘the flu’, is an infectious disease that affects birds and mammals. There have been several influenza outbreaks in the past few years such as the H1N1 or the recent H7N9, which spreads like wild fire if the right precautions are not taken to stop it’s deadly march. Influenza can also be fatal as it attacks your respiratory tract and in severe cases, it can cause pneumonia. Symptoms include fever, nasal congestion and body aches. It is prevalent all around the world as this disease is airborne. It can be easily passed on to an uninfected area through a traveller who has been infected while visiting a place that is undergoing an influenza outbreak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, there are three ways for you to fight influenza. The first is to get a flu vaccine, the second is to take everyday preventative measures such as to wash your hands frequently and to avoid crowded areas if the disease is present in order to stop the spread of germs. The third method is to take antiviral drugs if your doctor has prescribed them. Besides that, it is also important to stay informed with the latest health news to ensure that your travel destination is not in the grips of an influenza outbreak.
The source of this disease is a parasite called Onchocerca volvulus. Onchocerciasis is the second most infectious cause of blindness in the world. Also known as ‘river blindness’, it is spread to humans through the bite of a black fly that releases the parasite and attacks your body’s immune system. Symptoms include severe itching and if the optical nerves are destroyed, it may lead to blindness. Most infections occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Some cases also occur in Central and South America. In 2001, statistics show that approximately 270, 000 cases of blindness were caused by this disease.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Onchocerciasis is currently controlled through the spraying of black fly breeding sites. Aside from that there are medications available that can alleviate symptoms and reduce the spread of this disease for those who are infected. Talk to your doctor for more information.
The Salmonella bacterium can be easily spread through oral-fecal contact from animals or humans. Your food will not show any signs of contamination, hence when travelling, it is best to dine at reputable restaurants or at places that are clearly hygienic. Improper handling of food, consuming raw or unwashed food and contaminated beverages can cause this infection. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Salmonella can also cause typhoid fever and is prevalent in both developing and developed countries.
The best way to prevent contact with the Salmonella bacterium is to ensure that proper hygiene is practiced when handling food. Avoid raw or uncooked food such as eggs and meat. Vaccines are available via injection or orally and require repeat immunisation as protection tends to diminish over time.
The virus of this disease is transmitted through the bite of certain species of female mosquitoes including the Aedes mosquito. Yellow fever is a type of acute viral hemorrhagic disease, which can cause liver damage (jaundice) and eventually death. Symptoms of this disease include chills, fever and muscle aches. Yellow fever is most prevalent in Africa especially if you are travelling to areas that are thick with vegetation, such as jungles.
Generally, a safe and effective vaccine is available for those who require protection against this disease. However, the vaccine is only present in tropical and sub-tropical zones such as Africa and South America. Other steps you can take to protect yourself include applying mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeves tops and pants.
Malaria is also a mosquito-borne disease, which can infect and be transmitted by humans. If a person suffers from malaria and obtains proper treatment, it is possible that he or she can recover. However, if left untreated, malaria can cause death within days or even hours. In 2010, according to the CDC, up to 1.2 million people succumbed to malaria.
The best way to prevent this disease is to protect yourself from mosquito bites by using mosquito nets and insect repellents. Currently there are no effective vaccines available but ask your doctor about anti-malaria medicines which can help protect you from this disease.
There are many simple ways for you to ensure that you have a memorable, stress-free holiday. If you are travelling to a country where communicable diseases are present, be sure to visit your doctor four to eight weeks before your vacation to find out if vaccination is needed and if specific steps need to be taken to ensure that you and your family stay safe, happy and healthy during your holiday.