Save Your Vacation For When You're Not Sick
Prevention and Treatment One third of Canadians travelling to tropical areas could get infected with traveller’s diarrhea.
hen travelling anywhere in the developing world, consult a health care professional at least four to eight weeks before your departure — get the latest information about important health risks, and determine the need for any vaccinations or other pre-travel requirements. Some of the necessary vaccines require multiple doses in order to be effective. Being proactive is a good way to ensure you are informed and protected from the bugs and viruses that can complicate your itinerary.
The Zika virus situation is evolving and is being monitored closely by health care professionals to advise Canadian travellers on how best to protect themselves. The Zika virus is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquitoes usually bite during the day, peaking during early morning and late afternoon and evening. This same mosquito transmits dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever.
“The symptoms of Zika virus may last up to 12 days,” says Dr. Suni Boraston, Medical Director of the Travel Clinic Vancouver Coastal Health. “The symptoms tend to be mild flu-like symptoms — fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain. However, Zika can have devastating effects for the fetus if a pregnant woman contracts the disease.” There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant. Therefore, it is recommended pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy avoid travel to countries with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks.
Be prepared and proactive
While the concerns regarding Zika are not to be understated, by far the most common illness Canadians suffer from is travellers’ diarrhea. “When it comes to post-travel illness, gastrointestinal problems can make up anywhere from 20–50 percent of the problems in returning travellers,” says Dr. Jay Keystone, Medical Director of Medisys Travel in Toronto. “So at least 20 percent of people will get diarrhea while they travel. They’ll either come home still ill, or can have what we call a post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome, which can go on for months and even years.”
The main bacteria that causes travellers’ diarrhea is enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), and it contaminates all kinds of surfaces, as well as food items and water. “We always say boil it, peel it, cook it, or forget it,” says Dr. Keystone. “The problem with that is — it’s easy to remember, but impossible to do if you’re eating at restaurants.” Other everyday preventative measures include using hand sanitizer on a regular basis and sticking to bottled water throughout your trip.
There is also an oral vaccine that protects against enterotoxigenic E. coli diarrhea for up to three months and offers cross-protection against cholera that may be considered. Failing to take the necessary precautions can lead to severe abdominal pain, fever, and even vomiting. According to Dr. Boraston, these symptoms can last between three to seven days, which can be the bulk of a lot of people’s vacations.
Travelling abroad can put you at risk of contracting a disease that may not be common in Canada. Your health care professional may recommend you be vaccinated against one or more diseases before you travel abroad. General issues such as preventing injury and protective measures against mosquito bites or sunburn also deserve mention. Travellers with underlying health conditions may require attention to their health issues as they relate to the travel destinations and planned activities.
In summary, a consultation with a health care professional prior to departure presents an opportunity to discuss and take preventative measures to keep you and your loved ones safe during travel. Be prepared and proactive when it comes to your health while travelling.