Ravinder Mamtani, MD, Professor of Public Health and Associate Dean for Global and Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar
With ever increasing numbers engaging in international travel, the health risks associated with visiting countries with less developed health and hygiene standards have never been more pressing, according to Dr Ravinder Mamtani MD, Professor of Public Health and associate dean for Global and Public Health at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.
Speaking at the monthly Medicine and U lectures, Dr Mamtani pointed to statistics that show between 22 and 64% of travellers reported illnesses as a result of visiting a developing country.
He says, “We are seeing growing numbers of people engaging in international travel. In the US alone, there has been an increase of 21% of Americans travelling abroad over the past 15 years. In order to avoid illness some precautions should be taken.”
Dr Mamtani identifies three groups of potential health hazards facing travellers which are; the exacerbation of existing illness, such as a respiratory disorder which could become aggravated by high altitudes; illnesses associated with travelling in cramped conditions for along periods of time such as deep vein thrombosis, and thirdly; new illnesses and infections.
“There are some basic steps travellers can take to protect themselves from this third category,” says Dr. Mamtani. “One of the most common illnesses contracted by those travelling to poorer countries is diarrhoea and there are some fundamental steps that can prevent this such as avoiding eating or drinking in places of questionable quality. Drink only sterilised water and don’t buy food from street vendors. Always ensure your food if thoroughly cooked and served hot and keep some hand wipes on you.”
Those travelling to Africa, S America and Asia need to be aware of risks from mosquito bites and other parasites. Dr Mamtani recommends visiting your doctor before travelling to seek advice on minimising potential health risks. Malaria pills can be obtained and mosquito repellent creams bought to take with you and always use a treated bed net.
Dr Mamtani also said travellers should always take steps to plan for safe and healthy travel and ensure their vaccinations are up to date as a protection against infections such as Hepatitis A and B, Malaria and Yellow Fever. Also ensure you are adequately covered for insurance and to take a list of qualified doctors with you when you travel.
Remember to pack an emergency medical kit containing essential items such as antihistamine cream and tablets. Antibiotics, decongestants, band aids, and of course, sun cream, are just some of the essential items he says you should be packing. If you develop any symptoms after you return home such as weight loss, diarrhoea or fever, seek medical care immediately.
Dr Mamtani recommends those on long haul flights avoid drinking alcohol and to remember to stay well hydrated as the risk of deep vein thrombosis, (DVT) increases three fold on flights that are over six hours long. Try a few light stretches for at least five minutes and if you are in a high risk category, you should wear compression stockings.