When Dr. Suni Boraston, Medical Director of Vancouver Coastal Health’s travel clinic, sees patients who are heading to Asia, she always mentions Japanese encephalitis (JE). “It’s not on the radar for the majority of Canadian travellers,” she says — but it should be.

JE is a rare, but potentially fatal disease transmitted by infected mosquitos. Travellers may acquire it when visiting parts of South East Asia from June to October or staying in countries like Thailand and Indonesia, throughout the year.

“If you’re going to those two countries for a month or more, there’s a risk of contracting Japanese encephalitis,” Dr. Boraston says. Though the chances of getting the disease are very low, JE is not to be taken lightly as there is no cure for this viral illness.

Safeguard your health

Symptoms associated with JE include high fever, chills, neck pain, confusion, and mobility issues, however, some people may become infected without the symptoms.

“Protection is important,” says Dr. Boraston. “Take steps to ensure you don’t get bitten by mosquitos. Think long sleeves and pants and wearing good quality repellants with DEET or with picaridin.” Mosquitos carrying JE are most active at night, so sleep in accommodations that offer screens on windows and netting around beds.

There is also a vaccine available that’s formulated to help prevent JE that is given via injection, requiring two doses 7 to 28 days apart.

Before you travel, consult a health care professional or travel clinic four to six weeks before departure to learn how to safeguard your health away from home.