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Tips keep international travelers healthy

If an international destination is in your travel plans this summer, be sure to go through a medical checklist to keep healthy, said experts at Baylor College of Medicine.

“One of the things we worry about the most is the risk of contracting malaria, which is a mosquito-borne disease that transmits a protozoan parasite. The problem is that it can be associated with getting a fever, but it's also a cause of death,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at BCM and head of the section of pediatric tropical medicine at Texas Children's Hospital.

Some of the areas where malaria is prevalent include Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Guatemala and the Amazon region of Brazil. Hotez recommends consulting with a tropical medicine physician to get the proper medications prior to visiting these areas.

However, malaria is not the only mosquito-borne disease. Dengue fever is another mosquito-borne illness that is prevalent in the Caribbean, Central America and parts of South America. Since there is no vaccine for dengue fever yet, it's important to take protective measures to prevent mosquito bites. This includes application of DEET, but Hotez recommends consulting with a tropical medicine expert about how much DEET to use as it can be dangerous in excess.

Many of the vaccinations or medications must be planned well ahead of a scheduled trip, so Hotez recommends contacting your physician sooner rather than later.

Check to see if you are up to date with other vaccinations, including hepatitis and meningitis, and bring antibiotics for illnesses such as diarrhea.

While on your trip, Hotez recommends looking out for the following concerning symptoms that need to be addressed by a physician as soon as possible:

  • Fever
  • Rash that accompanies a fever
  • Any yellowing of the skin along with abdominal pain

It's also important during summer travel to watch out for food and water-borne infections. The most common are typhoid fever, traveler's diarrhea and Hepatitis A and E, according to Dr. Laila Woc-Colburn, assistant professor of medicine and director of medical education at the National School of Tropical Medicine at BCM.

Some of these infections, such as Hepatitis A and typhoid, are preventable by being immunized against them ahead of time, said Woc-Colburn.

Traveler's diarrhea is the most common illness effecting travelers. Each year, between 20 and 50 percent of international travelers, an estimated 10 million persons, develop diarrhea. Some of these are due to genetic factors, but others are due to foods eaten when traveling.

”My motto is if it is green it's mean, so avoid raw foods such as salad greens; if you don't peel it, don't eat it (referring to fruit) and bottled water with no ice,” said Woc-Colburn. “Also, always remember to wash your hands.”

It's important to find local physicians in the area of travel ahead of your trip, and this information can come from your physician or the U.S. Embassy.

Hotez reminds travelers that one of the big risks of travel is road traffic accidents and accidents while doing various activities, so be aware and cautious of these risks.