5 travel diseases your most likely to meet on the road

The following is a guest post by JanDrugs.ca, a Canadian online pharmacy.


Not the toilet your hoping for when Montezuma's revenge comes calling. Photo courtesy SpecialKRB

The website for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reads like a horror story for prospective globe trotters.

Anything from Chikungunya Fever to Schistosomiasis could put you on the sidelines (or worse) when you venture out into the world. Of course, with some simple preventative actions – up-to-date vaccinations; maintaining proper sanitary conditions; or even paying attention to what you touch, eat, smell, etc. – most travelers enjoy good health as they explore foreign lands.

The somewhat daunting list on the CDC site is there for a reason, though.

Different parts of the world are home to different bacteria and viruses that our bodies aren’t prepared to combat.  Chikungunya Fever might be fun to pronounce, but modern-day outbreaks of this mosquito-borne illness have affected millions of people from India to Italy with many deaths attributed to the virus. How do you prevent yourself from Chikungunya? Insect repellant.

In Canada, there aren’t many native diseases that foreign travelers have to worry about. As a Canadian pharmacy with years of experience, we haven’t really seen a demand from travelers for drugs that fight common traveling-related illnesses.

For Canadians, our lack of exposure to relatively exotic foreign illnesses is all the more reason to research your travel destination as there are often ailments that are specific to a region. Some health issues are prevalent no matter where you go. Here are a list of five common travel illnesses and how to avoid them:

  1. “Montezuma’s Revenge”: Also called Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD)– a name that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. An estimated 10% to 50% of international travelers (or 10 million annually) are struck with TD. While diarrhea itself doesn’t sound too threatening, it can disrupt your vacation at the least and send you to the hospital at the worst. Treatments range from staying hydrated in minor cases to heavy antibiotics in serious cases. The best way to avoid TD is to stay away from sketchy food or beverage and maintain quality hygiene.
  2. Cholera: A much more serious type of Traveler’s Diarrhea, cholera is most common in areas of the world with poor sanitation, crowded conditions and famine. Treatment usually involves the administration of fluids (orally or intravenously) to replenish electrolytes. As with TD, you want to avoid questionable food and/or drink and pay attention to sanitary conditions in your area. There are vaccinations for cholera, but they have not proven effective during outbreaks of cholera.
  3. Hepatitis: A virus that attacks the liver, Hepatitis is most prevalent in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. There are different types of Hepatitis that vary in severity (from temporary sickness to lifelong disability), but the common thread of conditions that lead to exposure while traveling are contaminated water and food sources. Again, maintaining quality sanitary conditions can greatly reduce exposure and contraction of Hepatitis. There are vaccines available to combat Hepatitis and have proven quite effective. It’s best to research your destination to see if and what type of Hepatitis might be prevalent in that area.
  4. Malaria: Another mosquito-borne parasitic illness, Malaria is very widespread. From the U.S. National Library of Medicine: “The disease is a major health problem in much of the tropics and subtropics. The CDC estimates that there are 300-500 million cases of malaria each year, and more than 1 million people die from it. It presents a major disease hazard for travelers to warm climates.” There are anti-malarial medications that you can take prior to traveling to problem-areas, the severity of which depend on where you are headed. Avoiding mosquitoes is one of the best ways to avoid exposure to malaria.
  5. Meningitis: Whether bacterial or viral, Meningitis is the inflammation of the lining of the brain. For those with a solid immune system, viral meningitis usually runs its course in a week or two. Bacterial meningitis is far more serious and, untreated in time, can cause irreversible damage or death. Fortunately, there are immunizations against meningitis. According to WorldNomads.com, “Clearly, those traveling to areas know for meningitis risk should do a review of the immunizations and discuss the need for a meningitis vaccine with their health care provider.  Even with vaccines for bacterial meningitis already taken, precautions such as hand washing and not sharing food or drinks are sound advice as the bacterial forms typically spread via saliva and mucous.”

From the serious ailments to the less severe (but still potential vacation-disrupters), there are steps that you can take to avoid having your travels derailed by illness. Very simply, keep yourself, your belongings and your surroundings as clean as possible. Avoid suspect food or beverage. Bring insect repellant. These simple precautions can keep you safe from these five illnesses and more.

Additionally, you should always research the area you are traveling to and review your immunization record if necessary.

I think good old Montezuma’s revenge hits most of us on the road but I haven’t met too many travlers that got HEP or Malaria on the road. What precautions do you take?

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