Sitata’s Weekly Report on Travel Health and Safety

Dengue Fever

The dominant health issue this past week has been dengue fever. In the more tropical areas of southern Mexico through Central America and into South America, thousands of cases of dengue fever are being reported, along with a considerable number of deaths. Paraguay is likely the most severely affected, along with Brazil.

Dengue fever in the central regions of the Philippines and in Thailand and Singapore continues to cause serious health problems. The first outbreak of dengue fever since 1982 was reported in Kenya.

Remember: regardless of how much dengue fever there is wherever you are going, you can reduce the risk of getting this infection by strictly following mosquito bite prevention measures.

New Strain of Avian Influenza

Although there have only been a little over 100 cases of the new strain of avian influenza (H7N9) reported from several provinces and cities in China, flu experts are concerned about the possibility that this new virus might start spreading from person-to-person — something it has not yet done to any extent, if at all. But concerns include its relatively high mortality, the fact that its origin in nature is still not clear, and that how roughly half the people got infected without any contact with poultry or live poultry markets.

Still, there is no reason not to visit China, and the World Health Organization has not issued any travel restrictions. Nevertheless, it would be wise to avoid visiting any live poultry markets at this time.

Cholera

There were reports of a new small cholera outbreak in Cuba. In spite of the introduction of cholera into Cuba by persons returning from working in Haiti where cholera is a major problem, Cuba has managed to avoid major spread of the disease through prompt public health measures.

Nevertheless, if travelling to Cuba, it is generally good practice to follow safe food and water precautions.

Measles in Europe

Because of decreasing vaccination rates in children in countries such as France, Italy, Spain and especially the United Kingdom, there is a general risk of exposure to measles in areas where there are outbreaks of this disease. Southern Wales, and part of Northeast and Northwest England have experienced on-going problems containing the spread of
measles.

The easiest was for anyone visiting Europe, England and Wales to remain healthy and immune from measles is to ensure that childhood vaccinations are up-to-date prior to travelling, especially with young children.

Meningitis in Sub-Saharan Africa

Every year, countries in the so-called sub-Saharan meningitis belt, including the Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Fasso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea experience outbreaks of meningitis during the dry season months of December to June. So far, the only reports of outbreaks have come from South Sudan and Guinea.

Travellers who are visiting or spending longer periods of time or having close contact with the local populations in the mostly rural areas in these countries should consider being vaccinated against meningitis prior to travelling.

Safety and Security

Pakistan

With elections scheduled for May 11th, there has been an increase above and beyond the usual level of violence to include politically motivated bombings resulting in multiple deaths and many injuries. Travellers may wish to reconsider plans to travel to Pakistan at this time.

Libya

In the aftermath of the revolution that overthrew the Gaddafi regime, the new government continues to struggle to maintain law and order. In a recent episode, heavily armed militia gunmen occupied two government ministries to demand legislation forbidding officials in the prior Gaddafi regime from holding offices and position in the new government. Several countries advise against travelling to Libya at this time.

Iraq

Serious sectarian violence seems to be escalating in Iraq with almost daily bombings that claim many lives and injure many people. Some fear that open sectarian warfare may erupt in the near future. Travellers should avoid travel to Iraq, if at all possible, due to the increased violence and unpredictable security situation.