What You Need to Know: Travel Vaccines

Being able to visit many places in the world is
 a wonderful experience. It is important, however, to learn about potential health risks at your destination and to visit a doctor before you go. With the news that many Caribbean countries are on alert for the mosquito-borne illness chikungunya, it is worth reexamining febrile, or fever-inducing, ailments.

Three causes of febrile illness contracted during travel are malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya, all native to the tropics, all transmitted by mosquitoes and all treated symptomatically and supportively with fluids and medications to replace electrolytes, control pain and ease fever.

Typical symptoms of malaria include fever, fatigue, vomiting and headaches. Prophylactic medications are available to prevent catching it during travel. Antiparasitic medications are used to treat it.

Symptoms of dengue include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash similar to measles. In a small proportion of cases, the disease develops into dengue hemorrhagic fever, which is life-threatening.

Chikungunya causes sudden onset fever usually lasting two to seven days, and joint pains typically lasting weeks or months. Other common signs and symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rash.

Health Canada, the CDC and the WHO have informative websites with up-to-date recommendations on destinations. At press time, as well as the Caribbean, Health Canada (www.phac-aspc.gc.ca) also reported cases of chikungunya in Central and South America, Florida, France and the Pacific Islands, One should also visit a travel health clinic or family doctor. The physician can help the traveller to learn more and prescribe prophylaxis for any potential travel-acquired diseases – taking antimalarial pills while in an area known to have malaria and having vaccines against typhoid fever, yellow fever and hepatitis A and B. Using mosquito repellent can help protect from malaria, dengue and chikungunya-infected mosquitoes. —Dr. Zachary Levine

Dr. Zachary Levine is an assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at McGill University Health Centre and medical correspondent for AM740 (a ZoomerMedia property).