Visit doctor before packing
By Noh Hyun-gi
The vacation season is finally here. But before you get on the plane, make sure you consult a doctor to find out if you need to be immunized agianst diseases prevalent at your destination and get health tips so your holiday is problem free.
In most tertiary hospitals, travel medicine departments under the division of infectious diseases provide vaccine shots and detailed consultations for people with diabetes, heart conditions as well as pregnant women and infants.
In addition, certain countries may require health records for long-term stays and visa applications. These documents can be attained at travel medicine clinics as well.
The most common cause of injury while on vacation is automobile accidents. Vaccinations and treatment for insect borne diseases are rare, so exercise caution to prevent bug bites such as wearing long-sleeved clothing and using insect repellant.
Always wear shoes to avoid a parasite invasion and avoid getting tattoos at unregistered shops as needle sharing can spread HIV.
Though uncommon in Korea, more than two hundred million people around the globe become infected with schistosomiasis, a parasite disease. Symptoms vary depending on the type of the worm that infiltrates the skin and include itchy skin, diarrhea, fever, jump in white blood cell count and an enlargement of the liver and spleen. Though not lethal in most cases, schistosomiasis can lead to chronic conditions. The disease is especially prevalent in underdeveloped areas. Refrain from swimming in rivers or lakes in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Laos, most countries in South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. If one comes into contact with water in those areas, be sure to dry off with a towel.
It is also important to make copies of your itinerary, passport and credit cards and leave them with friends or relatives at home in case of an emergency.
Prevalent diseases by region
Southeast Asia offers many popular destinations for Koreans for their closeness, richness of culture and affordability. When visiting countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines be aware of malaria, Japanese encephalitis, filariasis and dengue hemorrhagic fever.
Also, many maladies such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever and hepatitis A and B are food borne in the region.
More Koreans are traveling to South America and they must take extra caution trekking through rain forests. Along with malaria, Chagas disease and cutaneous and mucocutaneous leishimaniasis are common across the continent. Travelers can contract Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, through parasites called kissing bugs.
About 10 million people, mostly in Latin America, are infected with the disease that causes fever and headaches as well as muscle, abdominal and chest pain soon after being infected. In many cases, the infection leads to a chronic condition when the parasites settle in the heart and digestive muscles of the host. The victims suffer cardiac disorders and digestive malfunctioning. Two types of medication, benznidazole or nifurtimox, can cure Chegas disease if administered shortly after infection. No vaccine is available.
Jungle yellow fever occurs across tropical forests except for certain parts of Paraguay and Brazil. Dengue fever is common across the continent as well.
Timeline for vaccinations
Vaccinations should start as early as 12 weeks prior to take off. For those who do not have an antigen or antibody, they should receive the first immunization shot for hepatitis B. The second and third shots should be administered four weeks apart.
For those travelling to rural areas, a typhoid vaccine is recommended four weeks before departure. At the same time, adults in their 20s should be vaccinated for hepatitis A. One should get the first shot of the rabies vaccine, followed by two more injections at one week intervals. One should prepare a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses and dentures a month before vacation.
Those over 65 or people with a compromised heart, lung, or kidney should have an influenza vaccine two weeks before taking a trip.
If necessary, one should request yellow fever vaccines which are available at six sites: the National Quarantine Stations at Incheon Airport, Incheon port, Busan, Ulsan, Mokpo and Yeosu. One should have the injection at least 10 days prior to departure. Infants younger than 6 months, pregnant women or those hypersensitive to eggs or chicken should not get yellow fever vaccines.
Starting a week before departure, one should start taking malaria prevention medicine and continue for up to four weeks if traveling to high-risk destinations.
Get check-up upon return
After visiting high-risk regions, one should get a check-up one to two months after the trip. A disease can stay latent for months or even years; therefore, patients should notify doctors of their travel history when symptoms arise. A fever can indicate infection, so one should see a doctor if the body’s temperature rises after a trip overseas.
Source of medical information: Gachon University Gil Medical Center Travelers’ Clinic