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How to keep travelers from ignoring health risks

Any vacation trip is a risk—regardless of how tame the destination might seem.

Most people know that travel to exotic or underdeveloped countries should come with a battery of vaccinations, but this year health officials warn of outbreaks in more-conventional vacation spots.

Specifically, Europe has the measles.

NPR’s Goats and Soda blog writes :

The [measles] — which kills almost 400 kids each day worldwide — is hitting Europe hard this year.

Romania is fighting a large outbreak with more than 3,400 cases, including 17 deaths. And Italy is seeing a big surge in cases, with at least 400 already in 2017, the World Health Organization reported last week.

The outbreak is only going to get worse.

“Preliminary information for February indicates that the number of new infections is sharply rising,” WHO wrote.

The spike in cases of the deadly disease is linked to a drop in vaccinations worldwide.

NPR reports :

“Over the past five years, measles vaccine coverage around the world has stagnated at around 78 percent,” [ Dr. Seth Berkley , who leads the nonprofit Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance] says. “That in combination with the European outbreak is worrisome.”

For the measles, it’s not enough to have 78 percent of a population vaccinated. You need about 90 to 95 percent to stop outbreaks, Berkeley says.

Because measles is one of the most contagious diseases on Earth. One sick person spreads it to 18 others, on average. The virus literally floats around in clouds through the air, seeking out the unvaccinated.

“You don’t even need to be in the same room with a sick person to catch measles,” Berkley says. “If you were to leave a doctor’s office and someone came an hour later, that person could catch measles just from the virus left in the air.”

Travel vaccines are nothing new for communicators who have been working to inform the public about health risks associated with overseas adventuring. However, recent declines in public trust in vaccines are a worrisome trend for public health professionals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done research into why travelers decline their vaccinations. The CDC tweeted its findings:

The results point to a messaging problem, as the study suggests that most people who refuse vaccines are simply unconvinced of the danger of infection.

The CDC suggests that clinicians should be ready with facts to combat apathy when working one on one with patients.

These reports come amid continued anxiety surrounding the Zika virus and its effects on travelers to tropical climes. The CDC continues to warn pregnant women not to travel to areas where Zika has been reported.

It has also published a map with Zika outbreak areas.

Beyond just Zika, the CDC curates a comprehensive directory of every travel destination and its associated risks.

There are other concerns for global travelers beyond viruses and vaccinations. Travelers can be vulnerable to a wide variety of health issues, from blood clots to food poisoning.

Travel guru Rick Steves shares these basic tips on his website :

Take precautions on the flight. Long flights are dehydrating. Eat lightly, stay hydrated, and have no coffee or alcohol and only minimal sugar until the flight’s almost over. Avoid the slight chance of getting a blood clot in your leg during long flights by taking short walks hourly.

Eat nutritiously. The longer your trip, the more you’ll be affected by an inadequate diet. Budget travelers often eat more carbohydrates and less protein to stretch their travel dollars. Protein helps you resist infection and rebuilds muscles.

Use good judgment when eating out (and outside Europe). Avoid unhealthy-looking restaurants. Meat should be well cooked (unless, of course, you’re eating sushi, carpaccio, etc.) and, in some places, avoided altogether. Have “well done” written on a piece of paper in the pertinent language and use it when ordering.

Keep clean. Wash your hands often, keep your nails clean, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Hand sanitizers, such as Purell, can be helpful. However, since they target bacteria, not viruses, they should be used as an adjunct to, rather than a replacement for, hand washing with soap and warm water.

Practice safe sex. Sexually transmitted diseases are widespread. Obviously, the best way to prevent acquiring an STD is to avoid exposure. Condoms (readily available at pharmacies and from restroom vending machines) are fairly effective in preventing transmission. HIV is also a risk, especially among prostitutes.

Get enough sleep. Know how much sleep you need to stay healthy (generally 7–8 hours per night).

Additionally, On Call International put out an infographic on travel health risks.

 

Communicators, how are you warning of the inherent health risks of overseas travel?

HealthCareCommunication.com