While the global incidence rate for the Zika virus has decreased when compared to this time last year, Dr Muna al-Maslamani, medical director of Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Communicable Disease Centre (CDC), says residents planning to travel to countries with active transmission of the virus, should continue to take precautions.
“The Zika virus, along with malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, and West Nile virus are primarily spread through mosquito bites. These are preventable diseases. If you are travelling to a country where Zika or any of these mosquito-borne diseases are endemic, it is important to speak with a travel specialist and have a proper risk assessment,” said Dr al-Maslamani.
Dr al-Maslamani says an individual’s risk of contracting a travel-related illness is dependent on the destination and the individual. She says not all vaccinations are required for every individual and that personal medical history, duration of travel, and planned activities will determine an individual’s risk. While there is no commercially available vaccine for vector-borne diseases such as malaria and Zika, travellers can take perceptions.
“A travel specialist can help determine if it is appropriate to take malaria prophylaxis pills and can provide advice on steps that can be taken to help avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing long sleeved tops and trousers, applying anti-insect cream and using anti-mosquito nets during sleep,” noted Dr al-Maslamani.
She recommends visiting a travel clinic and meeting with a travel medicine expert at least four weeks prior to travel. She says this is especially important for individuals with pre-existing health conditions, in particular, chronic diseases.
Dr al- Maslamani said that each year only a small number of residents receive medical attention at HMC for serious travel-related illnesses, with most patients being treated for minor conditions such as respiratory infections, fever, diarrhoea, and skin rashes. However, she says it is important for residents to know what to do, if they become ill while travelling.
“Getting injured or becoming ill while travelling in a foreign country can be a frightening and overwhelming experience. Taking a few simple steps such as checking with your medical insurance carrier to determine if you are covered while travelling abroad and knowing the location of reputable medical facilities and your country’s embassy or consulate can help you to be prepared for a personal medical emergency,” said Dr al-Maslamani.
According to the official, rest and proper hydration and nutrition are generally sufficient for illnesses that have mild symptoms, immediate medical attention may be necessary if an individual experiences bloody diarrhoea; diarrhoea and a fever that goes above 102 degrees Fahrenheit; or experiences flu-like symptoms while visiting a malaria-endemic country. She says immediate medical attention is also required if scratched or bitten by an animal, if injured as a result of a car accident, or if an individual is sexually assaulted.
Dr al-Maslamani says the incubation period for different viruses and illnesses varies and the symptoms of most mild travel-related illnesses last only 24 hours.