The three most common health problems with which people return from exotic locations are the following: diarrhea, hepatitis A and malaria.
Approximately half of all tourists return with traveler’s diarrhea
Traveler’s diarrhea is an umbrella term for all diarrheas brought in from foreign exotic countries. “Traveler’s diarrhea has a universal clinical picture and is found across the entire range of developing countries. Practically half of the travelers suffer from it and therefore prevention is advised”, says MUDr. Jaromír Vomáčka, MPH, DTMH, who himself has spent a large part of his life on the African continent. Approximately fifty percent of cases are caused by an enterotoxigenic type of bacteria called Escherichia coli, which is manifested by general weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, painful abdominal pain, increased temperatures and sometimes by the presence of mucus and blood in the stool.
There is the possibility to prevent traveler’s diarrhea through vaccination – a vaccine against cholera is applied, and it is suitable as a means of prevention. However, MUDr. Vomáčka stresses that “vaccination can only limit the likelihood of contracting it by fifty percent and the clinical picture can sometimes be dramatic. What is of the highest importance is to pay attention to the quality of the food and water consumed. One must be more hygienic than at home.“ It is also advised to consume probiotics prior to departure.
Should you, despite all the precautions suffer from traveler’s diarrhea, rehydration is a must; simply to replace fluids lost by diarrhea and vomiting. Often, antibiotics are needed – a significant number of travelers going into exotic countries ask for antibiotics to be prescribed beforehand. The doctor will naturally instruct the travelers when the antibiotics are to be used and how.
It is always advisable to do a basic parasitic examination of the stool and rule out that there are any “souvenirs” left from the exotic destination, since the problems may not be apparent immediately. Some parasites have the ability to survive in the organism for weeks or even months. Sometimes, these can then spread to other tissues in the body and potentially cause fatal illnesses.
The dissemination of hepatitis in the developing world is tremendous
It is practically an infection from food and drink. Hepatitis A or yellow fever can be contracted anywhere, even if you are staying at a five star luxurious hotel. A very straightforward vaccination exists in two applications, which should be carried out at least two weeks prior to departure. This is necessary so that the organism’s immune system has time to react and form antibodies. It is a very simple form of prevention when traveling to risky destinations. This also applies to destinations often deemed as safe, such as Egypt, Tunisia, Croatia and Greece.
Despite being vaccinated, the protection is never a hundred percent guarantee, but it is high and almost always effective. When a vaccinated person becomes ill, he/she might not know about it because the form of the disease can be completely clinically insignificant. However, when the disease manifests itself in non-vaccinated people, the symptoms cannot be missed. These include intestinal problems, fever, fatigue, and headaches. Dark urine, pale stool, yellowing of the skin and sclera (whites of the eye), abdominal pain, objective enlargement of liver; are all clear indications. It is a serious state and medical assistance is necessary.
What are the precautions associated with hepatitis while traveling? It is necessary to drink packed water, brush teeth with packed water and avoid drinking beverages with ice. Be cautious of meals labeled as traditional or homemade. Travelers are often drawn to try local specialties, but they should be aware that a general rule applies: what one cannot cook, peel or make himself – is something to avoid.
Malaria is easy to contract if you do not protect yourself
The third scarecrow of exotic destinations is malaria. It is preventable through oral prophylaxis, with the help of pills which are used according to a specific scheme depending on the nature of the trip, its duration and destination. Various situations require various means of intervention. “The protection is yet again not always hundred percent effective, but it is significant. In the case of contracting the disease it will manifest itself in a rather mild form“, says MUDr. Jaromír Vomáčka, a travel medicine specialist. Besides pharmaceutical means of prevention, it is necessary to limit the potential exposure to mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and trousers, and use suitable repellents. It is also advised to sleep under a mosquito net infused with chemicals that repel mosquitoes throughout the entire night.
When malaria is contracted, non-specific flu symptoms surface – a headache, fever, muscle and joint pains. Fevers are very high and have a quick onset. Essentially, the affected person is weakened, has chills, can vomit and may not be able to function at all. These are of course warning signals and upon seeing the first symptoms one must seek immediate medical help. Some types of parasites that cause malaria can kill the affected person within days.