What are the real health risks of travelling?
And just how prepared are Australians when it comes to travelling and health?
Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccination division of pharmaceutical company Sanofi, recently released its Travel Together Media Survey Report, which reveals many Australians are at risk.
In the last year, 51% (9.5 million) of Aussies travelled to ‘at-risk’ regions, where there is a considerable risk of contracting diseases such as hepatitis A and malaria.
But three in five (63%) of these travellers did not get vaccinated before their last trip, because they were not fully aware of the risks.
So what are the risks? And why do some people think they’re exempt?
Sydney-based infectious diseases specialist Dr Bernard Hudson elaborates on the facts and fictions of travel health.
Myth 1: If you stay at a 5-star hotel you’re not at risk
“If you think you’re going to avoid hepatitis A by staying at a five-star hotel – you’re wrong,” says Dr Hudson.
“Five-star hotels have their benefits, but when it comes to infectious diseases you’re still at risk of contracting them.
“Almost 100% of travellers have a dietary indiscretion. And hepatitis A is so common, even if you’re trying your best to eat right.”
Myth 2: I was vaccinated as a child, so I’m still immune
People who are visiting family overseas have been found to have less contact or consultation with a doctor.
Dr Hudson says “it’s always a good idea to visit your doctor before going overseas, including making sure your childhood vaccinations are up-to-date and your influenza vaccination is annual”.
“Influenza is probably the most preventable infectious disease in travellers,” he adds, highlighting a key role for pharmacists in providing preventive travel health measures.
Myth 3: I was born there so I must have natural immunity to local diseases
According to Sanofi’s Travel Together report, almost half (49%) of ‘at-risk’ travellers believe Australians returning to their country of origin to visit friends and family are less likely to become sick during their stay, compared to Australians who travel there for other reasons.
And more than 2 in 5 (43%) ‘at-risk’ travellers believe that Australian children whose parents grew up in developing countries inherit immunity to diseases in those countries from their parents.
Immunity for some diseases doesn’t last long at all, says Dr Hudson.
For example, he points out that malaria immunity only lasts one year.
People from Australia also have greater risk of traveller’s diarrhoea.
“You should always assume you’re at risk,” says Dr Hudson. “If anything you may be at more risk because if you share the language and culture, you’re more likely to go off the beaten track.
“The closer you get to the local people and culture, the more at risk you are.”
Myth 4: Drinks made with ice are fine because freezing kills the germs
It’s the opposite, says Dr Hudson. “In fact, freezing preserved germs.”
“So you’re best off learning how to say ‘no ice please’ in the language of the country you’re going to.”
Myth 5: I’m not travelling to an at-risk destination, so I don’t have any travel health needs
Again, there is a huge need to consult a healthcare professional before any overseas travel. Dr Hudson reminds travellers not to assume they know what they’ll encounter on their travels.
“You might think you know what the range of illnesses are in those places. But the reality is the health systems don’t know how common some are, and we know because people come back with these illnesses,” he says.
“For example, Japanese encephalitis, cholera… You always have to get up-to-date information for that destination. Things change quickly, some things we know about, some things we don’t.”
For more information, visit vaccinehub.com.au