Every year, millions of people visit developing countries. Of these, many are business people looking for new opportunities.
With a myriad of development potential available in the Asian region, business people are flocking overseas in order to get in at the ground floor. Many travel to these regions on a regular basis, exposing themselves to diseases ranging from differing strains of hepatitis to typhoid and polio.
Unfortunately, many of these diseases are not discriminating – they can be caught even when staying in 5-star accommodation. Also, some of them require long convalescent periods. For example, hepatitis A can mean an absence from work of up to 8 weeks, depending on the severity of the attack.
The problem facing business people and travellers is that often they have not been exposed to a wide range of infections. This means they have little or no natural immunity to diseases common in other parts of the world.
For example, even when staying at resort-standard hotels in areas such as Taiwan, the traveller still has a 1 in 300 chance of developing hepatitis A. Budget travellers increase their risk by as many as six times.
The sensible solution is to make sure you receive the recommended vaccinations for any overseas country you visit. It is important, however, to realize that for many vaccines to be totally effective, a series of doses over an extended period of time are required. For example, hepatitis B vaccines usually require a couple of months before they reach their full effectiveness.
Vaccination is not the only precaution that should be taken when travelling in a developed country. Many diseases are transmitted through food which has been handled by a carrier of the disease. This means that uncooked vegetables, salads, raw meat, shellfish, and drinks made with water or ice are all potential health hazards, and should be approached with caution.
Other things that should be observed are the general cleanliness of the restaurant or food preparation area. A restaurant with no electricity, meat covered in flies hanging on hooks and perhaps a few stray animals wandering around is hardly likely to be a good risk!
There are also the risks that can be avoided much more easily. These include casual sexual contact, intravenous drug use and other skin piercing activities such as tattooing and ear-piercing.
It is also important that you mention to your doctor that you have been travelling overseas to developed countries if you develop any symptoms such as nausea, lethargy, fever or jaundice after your return. These can often be categorised as a flu or common virus, when in fact they may be symptoms of a hepatitis infection. With full travel details, the doctor will be more able to make a correct diagnosis and suggest necessary further testing.
With almost all health issues, the key to disease free overseas travel is common sense. If you are going to be visiting a developing area, take the time to ensure you receive the necessary vaccinations in plenty of time for your trip. After all, that small amount of forethought may prevent a great deal of trouble later on.
Copyright Felicity Walker 2005