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Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Travel sick: what you can catch
beachscene
Exotic destinations could harm your health
Holidaymakers are ignoring the health risks of going to far-flung tourist destinations, with a host of infections waiting to strike them down.

But what exactly is out there - and which ones will do more than simply ruin your holiday?

Tourist Gary Peace thought that an African safari would be the trip of a lifetime.

But he was still feeling the after-effects months later, after contracting malaria while on his travels.

He told the BBC: "It's all rather embarrassing really.

"I could have quite easily not have had malaria, if I'd taken my tablets.

"It's certainly something I wouldn't want to go through again - it is quite a painful experience."

Malaria is one of the more common diseases which can be contracted in many tropical countries.

It is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, which is passed into the bloodstream of humans when they are bitten.


peace
Gary Peace: malaria victim
Typical symptoms include a high fever, chills, sweating and lethargy.

There are two types of parasite - one, found in certain countries, causes a milder form of the disease.

However, the other type of malaria can kill quickly if medical attention is not given.

Drugs taken before, during and after travelling - prophylaxis - can reduce the chance of developing malaria should the traveller be bitten.

And many tourists are advised to cover up as much as possible to reduce the chance of bites.

Hepatitis

There are two forms of hepatitis which pose a threat to the unprepared traveller.

It is said that every flight returning from tropical destinations contains at least one person newly infected with hepatitis.

Hepatitis A is the most common, and the virus is spread mainly by poor sanitation or kitchen hygiene, particularly in developing countries.

The virus can even be picked up by eating shellfish caught from waters contaminated with sewage.

Doctors believe that people who are not immunised travelling long-term in high-risk countries are almost 100% likely to pick up the infection.

The illness is usually severe enough to incapacitate an adult for some time, although this may happen after returning from holiday, as the incubation period is often a matter of weeks.

The symptoms are fever, nausea and muscle aches, progressing to jaundice, which causes severe fatigue and nausea.

In older patients, there is a slight risk of "fulminant hepatitis", which is usually fatal.

The other type of hepatitis is hepatitis B. This is normally contracted via body fluids, for example during unprotected sex or intravenous drug use while sharing needles.

There is also a risk from unregulated acupuncture and tattooing.

After a long incubation period, the symptoms are similar to those of hepatitis A.

However, while the vast majority of those wtih hepatitis A recover fully, fewer hepatitis B patients do so, and some (approximately 5%) may remain infectious for years.

Immunisation is available against both forms of the disease.

Typhoid

Typhoid, or enteric fever, is caused by one of two bacteria, Salmonella typhi and Salmonella paratyphi.

It is caught from food or water tainted with faeces from infected people, and is more common in countries such as India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Symptoms include prolonged fever, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue.

Untreated, the illness can last for three to four weeks and is fatal in about ten percent of cases.

Treatment is with antibiotics, although there are various typhoid vaccines on the market.

Yellow Fever

Also transmitted from mosquitoes, this illnesses kills roughly 5% of those infected.

It can lead to haemorrhagic fever, in which the patient bleeds from internal organs.

High risk countries are those with jungle areas in South America and Africa.

An effective vaccination is available.

Rabies

Although rabies is uncommon in developed countries, there are still many animals in developing countries carrying this deadly virus.

Getting vaccinated before travelling is uncommon, but if you are bitten by an animal while abroad, prompt medical attention is vital.

The virus, instead of spreading into the bloodstream, tends to linger and the bite wound for a matter of days before attacking the nervous system.

Once the nervous system is affected, death is rarely avoided.

Symptoms may include a tingling or numbness around the wound site, followed by fever or aching.

Once more rabies-specific symptoms arise, such as hallucination, muscle spasms - particularly affecting the throat muscles, then the disease is invariably fatal.

However, in the few days following the bite, vaccination, either by one, or by a series of injections, can prevent the disease developing.

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See also:

31 May 00 | Health
Holidaymakers 'risk disease'
18 Jun 99 | Health
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