By Barbara Guenst, CRNP, Travel Medicine
The Chester County Hospital and Health System

Published: May 14, 2012

The excitement of international travel - the experience of new places, faces, languages, and cultures - comes with the recognition that travelers to other countries need to take certain health precautions. There are many issues to consider in keeping yourself healthy, and travelers should give themselves plenty of time to address international health safety concerns.

Insect precautions help prevent numerous insect-borne diseases, such as Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis, and Lyme Disease. Vaccines or prophylactic prescription medications can prevent some of these diseases.

Malaria is an "old world" mosquito-born disease still present in some regions of Central and South America, Asia and Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 350-500 million cases of malaria and at least one million people die from the disease every year.

There are four different types of malaria that infect humans - Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae, and Plasmodium ovale. The most severe form, Plasmodium falciparum, if not treated promptly, can lead to death. Symptoms of malaria can include fever with chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, diarrhea, nausea and/or vomiting. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and anemia can also develop. These symptoms usually manifest in six days to two months after becoming infected with malaria.

Fortunately, malaria is a preventable and treatable disease. People traveling for business or pleasure to malaria-endemic regions need to take appropriate advance measures to prevent transmission of malaria from mosquito bites. These measures can include:

  • Use of preventive medication
  • Proper insect precautions when outdoors, especially between dusk and dawn.
  • Sleeping under permetherin-impregnated mosquito nets if not able to sleep in well-screened or air-conditioned rooms.

Anti-malarial drug resistance has developed throughout the world, so which preventive medication is best for your travel plans may vary. When meeting with a travel medicine professional prior to your trip, they will review your travel itinerary, medical history, medications, drug allergies, age and other health factors to determine which preventive malaria medication is best for you.

Some vaccinations can be administered on the day of the initial consultation; however, the patient may opt to have vaccinations administered during a follow-up appointment. Some are administered in a series of injections requiring multiple visits.

Some diseases, including malaria, may not become apparent until you return from your trip. If you become ill, always inform your healthcare provider where you have traveled in the previous six months. This simple information can help lead to an accurate diagnosis of your ailment.

Careful planning can help you enjoy your vacation or complete business with minimal or no disruption in your health. International travelers should plan to visit with a travel medicine professional two to three months prior to their trip to allow adequate time to fully administer vaccines and begin prophylactic (preventive) medications, if required.

This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.

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