If there's one disease that's a pro at travelling, it's the influenza virus. More commonly known as the seasonal flu, the virus tends to trot around the globe depending on the time of the year. Now that it's November, the flu is here in the Northern hemisphere and can be found in parts of Europe, the United States and Canada.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) — the governmental arm in charge of Canadians' health — is currently advising potential travellers to visit a healthcare professional (doctors, nurses and even pharmacists in certain provinces are fine) in order to get a flu shot before departing.
But depending on where Canadians may be going, the shot may not be the only vaccination they'll need, says Tim Sly, a professor with the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson University in Toronto.
"Different parts of the world are particularly riskier than others when it comes to diseases, pathogens or organisms," said Sly in a phone call, mentioning places like the Far East where a vaccination may be needed. "In Southeast Asia there's the Hepatitis A and B virus. People going there should visit their doctor and get the vaccination. Don't go the night before, go a week or 10 days before to give enough time for the antibodies to develop and you should be well protected."
Sly also adds that Mexico and the Dominican Republic are two areas known for people falling ill with an upset stomach either while they're there, on the trip back, or shortly after getting back. They're not fatal but as Sly puts it, they interfere with your enjoyment.
"The majority of sickness is spread through food and water. When I go to Mexico or Central America, I tend not to eat green salads because I don't know how they've been washed, where they've been washed and what kind of water that's been used to washed them," said Sly, adding that once food is cooked, it's usually fine.
Seven diseases travellers should watch out for. Story continues below.
Dengue Fever is also known as "break-bone fever" due to the intense pain it causes. Like many of the infections travellers should be weary about, it's transmitted by mosquitoes carrying the disease. No treatment or vaccination is available according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveller's best bets are to use insect repellent and minimize exposed skin.
According to Professor Sly, those with severe cases of Cholera infection have a 50 per cent chance of death if untreated. The high mortality rate makes avoiding water contaminated with sewage or feces imperative as unsafe drinking water is one of the main causes of the disease. Vaccinations are available and treatment is best done through drinking plenty of clean water.
There are six types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D, E, F and G, though A and B are the primary concerns for travellers due to transmission through fluids. Symptoms include fatigue, stomach pains and jaundice. Vaccinations are available for hepatitis A and B and many infected with hepatitis A often recover naturally.
While mosquitoes are the main culprit for the spread of malaria, the actual cause of the disease is due to a parasite that spread through mosquito bites. There are four types of parasites that cause malaria, with only the P. falciparum variety known to cause death. The disease is treatable, though no vaccine is currently available. Antimalaria medication exists and while it won't make travellers immune to the disease, it will decrease the chance of an infection.
Like Malaria, Japanese Encephalitis is spread through mosquitoes carrying the disease. Symptoms include fevers and headaches but can evolve into paralysis, seizures, coma and death. Supportive care is recommended for those infected as there is no treatment or cure, though vaccines are available in the United States and Canada.
While many countries in North America have the rabies situation under control, countries like Nepal and Tibet do not, according to Professor Sly. As such, it's imperative that travellers stay away from wild dogs as bites from infected animals can be fatal. There's no cure though a vaccine injected shortly after a bite infected with rabies can be enough to stop the disease.
Caused by the bite of a mosquito carrying a flavivirus, Yellow Fever gets its name due to the yellowing of the skin and eyes, known as a condition called jaundice. Symptoms are flu like at first but can eventually lead to death if supportive care isn't found quickly. Currently there is no treatment but a vaccine is available for travellers.
While food and water are usual suspect for sickness during travel, one of the biggest sources of diseases comes from a small pest: the mosquito. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the mosquito is responsible for the spread of a number of serious diseases, including Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, Japanese encephalitis and Malaria.
To minimize traveller's chances of getting bite, the PHAC recommends covering up with light-coloured clothing (mosquitoes are more attracted to darker shades of fabric) and using insect repellent on any exposed skin. When staying inside, it's also ideal to use mosquito netting and to keep doors and windows shut to keep out pests. Travellers looking for heavy duty protection can also soak their clothes in repellent, like pyrethrum, for added measure.
Despite, the possibility of catching "break-bone fever" from a bug bite or getting infected with cholera from a poorly washed pineapple, Professor Sly still thinks such scary outcomes shouldn't put a halt to anyone's travel plans and that the best method to prevent illness starts with common sense.
"As we move around the world we shouldn't be curtailed by diseases. We should look at this world before it disappear but a common sense attitude."
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