Most Canadian travellers come down with some type of illness when flying abroad, says a travel medicine doctor offering prevention tips.
"The estimates in the literature suggest between 50 and 75 per cent of travellers acquire some type of illness," said Dr. Jay Keystone of the Medisys Travel Health and Immunization Clinic in Toronto.
In general, travellers are advised:
- Don't drink the water.
- Don't have ice cubes.
- Keep salads and street vendors to a minimum.
- Keep prescribed antibiotics on you.
- Avoid getting injections in other countries.
- Get the appropriate vaccinations and anti-malarial pills for the area you're visiting.
Mild travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness, he said. He recommends taking both over-the-counter drugs as well as prescribed antibiotics if the diarrhea interferes with daily activities.
For more serious illnesses that sicken less than 10 per cent of travellers, getting vaccinated is the best prevention but many people leave it too late, Keystone said.
"travellers should be going to a travel clinic six to eight weeks before travel, and the older you are, the earlier you should go," he advised.
Jill Fairbrother headed to the clinic on Tuesday ahead of her trip to Ecuador, where she's hoping to enjoy a visit to the rainforest and the Galapagos. It's the home of the blue-footed booby, a penguin-like bird with bright blue feet she's looking forward to seeing.
"We have had advice about malaria tablets," said Fairbrother. "We received the yellow fever shot and hepatitis A. Feeling actually like we'll be much more safe when we do travel."
Last week, the Public Health Agency of Canada alerted people to cholera in certain areas of Cuba. Elsewhere recently, meninogoccocal outbreaks occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, dengue fever cases showed up Italy, and malaria has been resurgent in parts of Greece.
To put those risks into perspective, however, Keystone said motor vehicle accidents are still the main killer.
For people returning to their homeland after a decade or more, malaria is a concern. Fever in a returning traveller should be considered malaria and treated seriously until proven otherwise, he advised.
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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.