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ASK JOURNEYS: Don't come home with more than a few souvenirs

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There have been a number of recent cases in which travellers returning to Canada have come back ill from diseases they picked up abroad.

A recent study published in Open Medicine states many of these cases that developed could have been prevented.

Some of those diseases, such as malaria, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, along with typhoid fever and tuberculosis, could have been prevented by a simple visit to a travel health professional.

Others could have been minimized by a visit to a doctor when the first symptoms of illness appeared after their return.

These cases are increasing, not just because of vacation travel, but because of business travel, too. Adventure-seekers are increasingly going far off the beaten path to satisfy their wanderlust. It is no wonder contact with communicable diseases is growing.

Two-thirds of the patients in the study, which included more than 4,000 participants, did not even try to consult a doctor before leaving Canada.

The study underscores what I have advocated in the last couple of years: even for the most popular vacation destinations, some caution and protection is advised.

These include vacations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Mexico, where the greatest number of Manitobans travel.

The journal reported that at least 20 per cent of returning travellers suffer some kind of illness.

Immigrants to Canada often feel they don't need to take pre-travel health precautions. They believe because they once lived in the country, they are immune to diseases that other visitors might catch.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Travellers who went back to visit friends and relatives require medical treatment double the amount of all returning travellers. Worst of all, this group was in the lowest percentage of those who chose to meet with a professional for pre-travel consultation.

The immunity they may have had when living in the country quickly erodes once they live in Canada or the United States.

For the best in medicine and travel information available now, you might go to the Canadian Public Health agency (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/index-eng.php) or the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/phps/.

There are other actions travellers should undertake when they are visiting any country where health standards are not up to those here in Manitoba and Canada.

If you are already taking medication, the most obvious of recommendations is to be sure to check with your own physician before you consider booking a trip.

Carry more medication than you will need, and whenever possible keep them in the original containers. Never store medication in your checked baggage.

Stay away from fruit that doesn't need peeling and never eat raw meat, fish, or shellfish in countries or resorts where you are not sure of their storage and usage policies.

While it really is exciting to want to try food sold by street vendors, safety first would suggest you avoid it. It may seem like you are experiencing local life better when you do, but your innards may balk at the intrusion.

Stick to commercially bottled water, soft drinks and fruit juices over tap water. There is a number of water-purifying tablets and liquids that can be purchased as well.

If you are travelling to a region where mosquitoes are prevalent, be sure to take insect repellent containing the highest amount of DEET you can find. The higher the concentration, the longer the product will protect you. A repellent with 30 per cent DEET should provide protection for about six hours.

Even during hot evenings, long sleeves and long pants and socks are advised. Light-coloured clothing attracts fewer bugs.

For diarrhea treatment and prevention, there are some over-the-counter products that can be taken to prevent or alleviate some of the symptoms.

Always check and double-check your travel health insurance policies to know inclusions and exclusions beforehand.

Many of the tips I have listed here are taken from a booklet put out by the Sanofi Pasteur organization. I will be pleased to send you one free of charge if you send an email to the address below.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com . Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found on www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 E4

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