Bringing Home Illness From Overseas
Diarrhea, Malaria, Bug Bites, and Skin Disorders Are Among the Most Common Problems
Jan. 11, 2006 -- International travel can be enriching, but a souvenir you
don't want is an illness picked up overseas.
A team of doctors in Nepal, Germany, and the U.S. recently tracked diseases
brought home by travelers who had visited developing countries. The travelers'
most common diseases were:
- Illnesses causing fever, such as malaria, dengue fever, and related
- Diarrheal illnesses, mostly from parasites.
- Skin disorders, mostly from insect bites.
- Gastrointestinal disorders besides diarrhea, such as liver infections.
The study by the University of Alabama's David Freedman, MD, and colleagues
appears in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Freedman's study spanned the globe. Data came from 30 specialized clinics in
six developing regions in the world.
Between 1996 and 2004, more than 17,000 people who had recently traveled
overseas visited those clinics, complaining of health problems they'd picked up
on the road.
Those people are a tiny slice of the world's travelers. About 763 million
people crossed international borders in 2004, according to a journal editorial
by David Hill, MD, DTM&H.
Hill directs the National Travel Health Network and Center in London. He's
also an honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical
Hill's "DTM&H" credential notes his specialty: tropical medicine
and hygiene. That field is more important than ever, Hill writes, since people
flit from one side of the world to another for business or pleasure.
Keeping Travel Healthy
Packing your bags for an overseas trip? The CDC has an office devoted to
healthy travel. Here are some tips from the CDC and the papers by Freedman and
- Check in with your doctor or local health department at least four to six
weeks before your trip.
- Get any vaccinations recommended for your destination.
- Take any prescriptions that you might need to prevent disease (such as
antimalarial drugs) as directed.
- Before your trip, pick up current health information about your
destination. Ask your doctor or try the CDC Travelers' Health web site --
- Don't eat raw or undercooked meat or seafood.
- Don't eat raw fruits (like bananas or oranges) and vegetables unless you've
peeled them yourself.
- Avoid tap water, including ice made from tap water. Hot tea, coffee, and
bottled drinks are safe.
- Well-cooked foods and packaged foods, if handled properly, are usually
- Avoid foods and beverages sold by street vendors in unhygienic
- If you're traveling back home to your native country, don't assume that
your body can handle local germs.
- Try to avoid bug bites.
Also, don't forget about safe sex. HIV and other sexually transmitted
diseases are worldwide problems; they don't take vacations.
Lastly, wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand
rub to keep germs at bay. That habit also comes in handy at home, since
infections can happen anywhere.