Australian travellers returning to India at higher risk of contracting infectious diseases

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Immigrants from the Indian subcontinent are at higher risk of contracting infectious diseases when travelling, writes DR PRAKASH PAUDEL

Many infectious diseases in Australia are imported by travellers returning from overseas.
infectious diseases.Indian Link
The risk of contracting diseases is higher when travel includes visits to developing countries. A disease surveillance study conducted in Australia showed that one high risk group of Australian travellers are those returning to countries in South Asia to visit family and friends.
Travellers may contract infectious diseases due to consumption of contaminated food and water, animal and insect bites, and contact with people with respiratory illnesses.  Some key examples include typhoid, hepatitis A, malaria, rabies and influenza.
For example, an Indian couple with a child travelled from Sydney to India during the Christmas holidays last year. They attended a marriage ceremony and also travelled to rural villages to visit their relatives. Upon their return to Australia, the mother and child were sick and required a hospital visit.  After health examination, both were diagnosed with typhoid.
A large number of similar cases concerning various infectious diseases are diagnosed in Australian hospitals every year after immigrants visit countries in South Asia including India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The diseases are mainly caused and spread due to high exposure to at-risk behaviours related to eating and drinking practices, and beliefs that they are safe to do so in their country of birth.
The Australian Government Department of Health collects annual surveillance data records of cases of infectious diseases and fund projects aimed at the prevention of diseases, such as improved immunisation rates, and early treatment of the cases. They also support health organisations to conduct research and health promotion to reduce the importation of diseases, and develop relevant and important health policy.
The Health Department also aims to inform Australian travellers through social media and online sources about the health risks at their destinations, including infectious diseases and the recommended vaccines and health precautions during travel to prevent them.
In this context, researchers from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales are investigating perceptions of travel risks, travel health and vaccination of travellers who visit friends and relatives in countries in South Asia. The study will provide important information on how we can protect travellers from infections during travel.
To participate in the study, please type the link in your computer or smartphone and complete the survey. After you complete, you can go into a draw for the chance to win one of two mini iPads. www.surveymonkey.com/r/TBY8657

Causes and types of infectious diseases

*Contaminated food and water – Typhoid, paratyphoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis E etc.
*Insect and animal bites – Malaria, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, chikungunya, rabies etc
*Respiratory illness and cough – Influenza, measles, whooping cough, tuberculosis etc
*Blood and unsafe sex – HIV, hepatitis B etc
About typhoid fever
Typhoid fever is caused by an infection with bacteria called Salmonella typhi, which is transmitted by eating contaminated food or water. The bacteria is not present in Australia, but is common in less developed countries. The South Asian region has a very high rate of disease.
The symptoms may include fever, headache, general discomfort and a lack of appetite and generally start 8 to 14 days following infection.
Immigrants who return to developing countries (in particular India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) to visit friends and relatives are at greater risk of acquiring the disease compared to tourists, as they stay longer and are more likely to consume the local food and water.
Typhoid vaccination is strongly recommended for travellers to developing countries. Typhoid vaccination is required every three years to protect from infection.
Typhoid can be treated with antibiotics.
How is it prevented?
People travelling to countries where typhoid fever is common should:

  • receive the typhoid vaccine at least two weeks prior to travel (every 3 years)
  • wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after going to the toilet and before eating
  • avoid uncooked foods, including fruit and vegetables unless you are able to be peel them yourself
  • drink bottled or boiled water
  • not drink untreated water, including ice and drinks mixed with water
  • avoid eating from street stalls
  • ensure hot food is thoroughly cooked and eaten whilst hot

For more details: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/typhoid.aspx

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