Feeling a little apprehensive? All those world diseases and infections may be leaving you feeling travel wary. However, so long as you practice good hygiene and are up-to-date with your vaccinations, you can head abroad with confidence!
It's common sense that new experiences will expose you to new risks. Similarly, travelling to foreign, exciting (and at times undeveloped) places exposes you to bacterial, fungal and parasitic illnesses that you might not be accustomed to back home.
Poor sanitation, limited hygiene, warm and moist countries are the likeliest culprits when it comes to harbouring the growth of organisms, which can lead to infections. As well, diseases are often passed on from insects and bug bites, flies and even swimming in contaminated water.
Particularly risky areas of the world include parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and areas of Central and South America. Travellers’ Diarrhoea is the most common infection to affect travellers and occurs in about 20% to 50% of all tourists.
In this section, we’ll give you some top info on common diseases and infections to be aware of around the world. The more informed you the better equipped you will be to travel safe and sound!
common world diseases & infections
The World Health Organisation's database of vaccine requirements covers 193 countries. This map is coloured according to the number of distinct vaccine antigens required. The per-country average is a little over 10.
Part of the Salmonella group; Typhoid Is a life-threatening disease that affects 12.5 million people each year. Precautions should be taken if visiting underdeveloped regions such as Asia, Latin America or Africa. Luckily, Typhoid isn’t found in countries such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the US or Japan.
Symptoms: As given away in the name, Typhoid Fever victims suffer from fever-like symptoms. You could experience temperatures of up to 40° C - whilst stomach pain, headaches and a loss of appetite are common too.
Treatment: Although deaths are rare. Typhoid Fever can be fatal. Having said that, treatment can be as simple as taking antibiotics and symptoms will subside after a few days. It's essential to be wary of becoming a carrier, so when you get home it's vital you go see your GP.
How to avoid: Typhoid bacterium is carried in the bloodstream and is contracted when eating or drinking contaminated substances. You’re more likely to stumble across it in countries where handwashing isn’t common or water is contaminated with sewage. Avoid food and drink that you suspect could be risky as the vaccine itself isn’t 100% effective!
Caused by the bacterium Clostridium Tetani, Tetanus can get into your body through an open wound such as a dog bite. Symptoms can include muscular aches and rigidity. Jabs are fairly common now and chances are you’ll have had one in early childhood. However, you should have your booster shots every 10 years, as the disease hasn’t completely disappeared.
Symptoms: A tightness in the jaw, known as lockjaw. It can also be difficult to swallow, whilst neck stiffness and tightness in the abdominal muscles are common too.
Treatment: Wound care, a course of antibiotics, and an injection of tetanus antitoxin are your top priorities. You may receive medications such as chlorpromazine or diazepam to control muscle spasms or a short-acting barbiturate for sedation.
How to avoid: Clean any cuts and scrapes and wash thoroughly with soap. You’ll also need to remove any dirt or debris, before cleaning and covering the wound with a bandage.
Polio is the common name and this virus is found in contaminated food and water. Risky areas to avoid include Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Symptoms: Commonly you’ll suffer a high fever, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Without treatment, Polio can quickly spread to the blood and nervous system. Older victims are more likely to suffer the devastating effects of Polio, with paralysis affecting less than 1 in 100 patients. There are other dangers too though and the respiratory system can be affected. Recovery from Polio can take up to a year.
Treatment: The Polio jab is really effective and just like tetanus, you can have a booster every 10 years.
How to avoid: Polio is commonly spread through close contact. Avoid crowded areas if possible, such as public transport and swimming pools. Check the WHO website to find a list of countries that have been certified as Polio-free.
Hepatitis A is another viral disease caused by poor sanitation and hygiene. In underdeveloped countries, children are particularly at risk – but often don’t show any symptoms. It’s a completely different kettle of fish in developed countries. Hep A can be passed from one to another including close contact or contaminated food and drink.
Symptoms: Occasionally there’ll be no symptoms at all, whereas the extreme is jaundice, liver failure or even death. More commonly though, Hepatitis victims will have fever-like symptoms including chills, weakness and loss of appetite.
Treatment: You can also get a jab to protect against Hepatitis A, with boosters available too. Each should protect you for up to a decade.
How to avoid: Like many other foreign diseases, it’s advised to be careful with the food and drink - avoid undercooked shellfish and raw fruit or vegetables.
Cholera is caused by infection of the intestines through the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae. The disease is common wherever sanitation levels are poor. For Cholera to become a threat to adults, around one million Vibrio Cholerae bacteria would have to have been ingested. For those with a weakened immune system though this could be less. Cholera is unfortunately high risk in natural disaster zones. Poor sanitary conditions can greatly increase the incidents of cholera.
Symptoms: Effects range from mild all the way through to fatal, with dehydration, diarrhoea, cramps and vomiting common.
Treatment: If you’re suffering Cholera-like symptoms, get medical help as quickly as possible. Treatment will likely include antibiotics and rehydration. Patients should try to take on board as much non-alcoholic fluid as possible – up to seven litres of water or more each day.
How to avoid: Steer clear of undercooked or raw seafood. Chances are it may have come into contact with contaminated water. If you’re visiting a Cholera affected region, you can also have a vaccine to protect you.
Meningitis can be both a viral and bacterial infection affecting the brain and spinal cord. Viral Meningitis is often less severe though it requires specific treatment. On the other hand, Bacterial Meningitis is extremely dangerous. Patients can suffer from brain damage, a coma or even fatality.
Symptoms: Common symptoms include fever, headache, a stiff neck and even rash. Other symptoms include sleepiness, discomfort from light and an onset of confusion. If you have Meningitis, symptoms will probably show themselves anytime from one or two hours to a few days after. It’s vital to get treatment asap though, as victims can suffer seizures and even slip into a coma.
Treatment: Before travelling get a vaccine against the virus. Remember, if you’re worried you may have Meningitis, get medical help quickly (antibiotics are usually administered). Early treatment reduces the risk of death to less than 15%. Meningitis is particular dangerous to elderly patients.
How to avoid: Avoid crowded areas such like public transport. Because Meningitis can easily be contracted, it’s common for epidemics to be a problem. Victims coughing or sneezing can trigger bacteria, which others will then breathe in, so keep covered up!
Malaria affects a large number of people every year; between 300 million and 500 million are infected as the disease is passed from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Symptoms: Victims suffer flu-like symptoms, including chills, nausea and muscle aches. Health risks include seizures, organ failures and even death.
Treatment: Before travelling to any Malaria-prone region, your GP can prescribe you with malarial tablets to take throughout your trip.
How to avoid: Cover up, use mosquito nets when you sleep and wear bug protection spray.
It’s not just malaria those pesky Mozzies can give you. Up to 100 million people are affected each year with Dengue Fever.
Symptoms: Headaches, pain and rashes, serious infections can also lead to bleeding from the nose and gums too.
Treatment: Dengue fever vaccines are in development, but not yet available. Keep hydrated and take acetaminophen for pain relief.
How to avoid: If you can, stay in air-conditioned rooms, wear protective clothing and have plenty of mozzie spray at hand.
The mosquitos are back once again, this time giving us the unsavoury parasitic disease Filariasis.
Symptoms: Filariasis affects lymphatic diseases and can have fairly gruesome consequences. After infection, microscopic worms travel into the lymph vessels. The bad news is there may not be symptoms, but there’ll be long term damage to your kidneys and lymphatic system. Untreated filariasis can also cause areas of your body to swell with fluid, leaving you in major discomfort.
Treatment: No vaccine is currently available. Treating whole communities at once with albendazole and ivermectin has proven successful in the past.
How to avoid: As above, prevention is key. Give those mozzies a hard time reaching your skin with loose-fitting clothes, and make sure you sleep with a mosquito net at all times.
Moving away from Mozzies, we turn to Leishmaniasis. This is passed with the bite from a sand fly and infection can affect the skin or internal organs.
Symptoms: Nasty symptoms include sores and even facial disfigurement and feverish symptoms.
Treatment: No vaccines or drugs to prevent infection are available. Leishmaniasis patients will need hospital treatment as the spleen or liver can become enlarged and swollen.
How to avoid: Avoid outdoor activities, especially from dusk to dawn, when sand flies generally are the most active. Use nets when you sleep, wear loose clothing and wear lots of DEET.
Plague may call on distant history lessons of the 17th century right? Correct, but unfortunately it hasn’t yet been killed off. Plague is passed after being bitten by fleas in contact with rodents.
Symptoms: Fever, cough, chills and pain.
Treatment: Plague disease is a severe illness that can result in pneumonia, swollen glands, blood infection, and death. It can be fatal if untreated, so you’ll want antibiotics asap!
How to avoid: More common in disaster-stricken areas. Do not handle sick or dead animal bodies. But if you must, then use gloves plus face and eye protection. The same goes for rodents and their droppings. Avoid touching infected tissues, materials, or body fluids from a plague-infected person or animal.
On the 29th of January, 2016 new warnings were released regarding the outbreak of the Zika Virus. The virus, transmitted through infected mosquito bites was reported in Tonga, the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands, the virus is said to have spread to 24 nations and territories in the Americas.
Symptoms: Mild fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and muscle pain, can cause birth defects in pregnant women.
Treatment: No vaccine or medications are available to prevent or treat Zika infections. Treatment involves getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids to prevent dehydration and taking medicine such as acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain.
How to avoid: Prevention involves reducing mosquito populations and avoiding bites by using lots of deet mosquito spray.