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Take condoms with you, and use them. That’s the message to young Aussie backpackers following a study showing high rates of unsafe sex with new partners among young international travellers heading to full moon parties in Thailand.
British researchers say high-risk sex among young travellers attending the hugely popular all-night beach parties on Koh Tao and Koh Phangan is fuelling the global spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, HIV and gonorrhoea (including antibiotic-resistant strains like Neisseria gonorrhoea) along with unplanned pregnancies.

What the study found

In a survey of 1238 young single travellers - including 72 Australians – visiting Thailand, the researchers found that overall almost 40% had sex with a new partner. Of these, 37% had unprotected sex.
The survey also revealed:
- UK and Swedish backpackers were most likely to have unprotected sex, at rates of 49% and 46% respectively.
- Australians had a 30% rate of unprotected sex.
- Most likely to practice safe sex were Canadian and German backpackers, with up to 80% consistently using condoms.
- Backpackers were more likely to have sex with travellers from other countries, while males are also likely to use local sex workers.

STIs – who’s at highest risk?

In 2013, a 14-year study of STI patterns and rates among 112,180 international travellers found that the type of infections varied among different classes of travellers.
Those most likely to be diagnosed with an STI were:
- Male travellers
- Younger adults
- Businesspeople
- VFRs (Visiting Friends and Relatives abroad)
- Short-stay travellers (less than 30 days)
- Immigrants
- Travellers who had not sought pre-travel medical advice
The most common travel-related STIs where non-gonococcal or other unspecified urethritis, acute HIV infection, and syphilis. For men, urethritis and epididymitis were most common, while cervicitis topped the list of STIs for women. 

Condoms have some limitations

Condoms are as important as sunscreen, personal insect repellent, and sanitising hand gel.
While condoms are widely available overseas, their quality can vary. Our advice is:
- Take your own from Australia: You can be sure of their quality.
- If you purchase them overseas, first check the expiry date and make sure the pack carries a recognised quality assurance mark.
- Use only water-based lubricants with latex condoms.
It’s important to remember that condoms have limitations.
Condoms WILL protect against: HIV, Hepatitis B and C, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and syphilis.
Condoms WILL NOT prevent: Genital herpes, genital warts, pubic lice, or scabies.
Read more about male and female condoms and how to use them correctly. 

Safe sex is smart – at any age

Enjoying sun, sea and sex on holiday is not just for 20-somethings: a separate British study published in the journal, Sexually Transmitted Infections found that older holiday-makers – one-in-20 men and one-in-40 women aged 35 to 74 – had a sexual relationship with a new partner while travelling abroad.
Researchers found that those travellers who found a new sexual partners abroad were also more likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as unprotected sex. They concluded: “These proportions are likely to increase as older people maintain good health, have the financial means to travel, and are now more likely to experience partnership breakdown.”
Regardless of age, if you’ve had unprotected sex while abroad, have a sexual health check-up – including a screening for STIs – through your GP, a sexual health clinic, or a Travelvax Australia clinic as soon as possible after you return.
A thorough check-up provides reassurance and ensures there is no delay in treatment if you returned home with an STI. Just as importantly, by getting diagnosed and treated early you could help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant infections in your community.

 

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

As the mercury dips each autumn, winter viruses loom large on the horizon.
Not just the more familiar seasonal influenza and colds (rhinoviruses): Winter is also the peak season for norovirus, the most common cause of gastroenteritis worldwide.
Noroviruses thrive in nursing homes, hospitals, large offices, universities, schools… in fact, in any confined, crowded space. Which is why norovirus outbreaks are not uncommon on cruise ships and at holiday resorts.
What make norovirus so contagious that it causes more than 90% of the world’s non-bacterial outbreaks of gastroenteritis? There are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, a single infected person can shed literally billions of norovirus particles. It takes as few as 18 particles to infect another person and they can be infected in a number of ways.
Secondly, just like influenza, noroviruses are constantly mutating. And, like flu, past infection offers no immunity to the new strains that emerge every couple of years.
The global economic burden of norovirus is a staggering $60 billion per year, with an annual estimated death toll of 200,000, according to new estimates drawn from studies of the disease and its impact. 

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

Our Games athletes and officials have been advised to pack a mosquito-proof bed net when they travel to Brazil for the 2016 Olympics in August.
Australian organisers want to ensure our team members avoid mosquito-borne viruses such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Malaria is also present in areas of the northern Amazon states.
But, it’s Zika that is creating global headlines. The WHO yesterday declared Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and has urged a coordinated international response. 
There have been an estimated 1.5 million cases in Brazil in the past 10 months and the virus is now spreading rapidly throughout neighbouring countries of the Americas and the Caribbean. At least 26 nations have reported Zika to date, while dengue and chikungunya are well entrenched in every country in the region.
What’s added a tragic twist to the Zika tale is the strong suspicion that the virus is behind hundreds of cases of microcephaly in infants born to mothers infected during pregnancy, as well as (much rarer) cases of the auto immune disease, Guillain-Barré syndrome. Scientists also believe it can be passed on in semen, breast milk and through blood transfusions.
Despite this, for 80% of people who get the virus the symptoms are either mild or completely absent. But, even without the rash, red eyes, low-grade fever and joint pain lasting up to a week, anyone with the virus in their bloodstream can pass it on if an Aedes mosquito bites them and then bites someone else. 

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

Dr Cameron Webb is the man the Travelvax Report turns to for his expert knowledge of insects – especially the ones that bite.
There’s not much the Sydney-based entomologist doesn’t know about mozzies, including the two disease-carrying Aedes species that are spreading to every corner of the world’s tropical regions.
After reading last week’s article advising Year 12 students about to head overseas for schoolies or a gap year, Dr Webb had some keen observations to share.
Indeed, they’re relevant for travellers of all ages.
Besides the vaccinations we recommended for travel to developing countries, he says there are a couple of other major differences between overseas schoolies (and holiday) destinations like Bali or Fiji and local ones like Queensland’s Gold Coast that Australians often don’t appreciate.
Among them, the consistent risk of the mosquito-borne viruses, dengue and chikungunya and the very ‘un-Australian’ biting patterns of the aggressive mozzies that spread them - Aedes aegypti (also known as the ‘Yellow Fever mosquito’) and Aedes albopictus (the ‘Asian Tiger’).

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

Australia’s flu season is shaping up as a severe one, a panel of experts has warned.
Despite almost 50% more confirmed flu cases than at the same time last year, many Australians remain unprotected, partly because stocks of the vaccine arrived later than usual.
The good news is there’s no shortage now and it’s not too late to be protected. But, you need to have the vaccine soon to get the maximum benefit this winter.
The bad news is that we now know ‘silent spreaders’ are just as likely to infect you as someone sneezing and coughing.
Silent spreaders are people who appear well but are either newly infected or just over their symptoms. They can pass on the flu simply by talking to you or breathing into the air close by.

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Every day Travelvax Australia’s experts field questions on all kinds of travel health topics. Not surprisingly, skiing is rarely among them.

True, the most popular ski fields are in developed countries, which greatly reduces the number of potential disease risks. So, almost invariably, the list of routine or recommended vaccinations is short.
But, as pristine as those brilliant white slopes look, there’s more than just bruises, sprains and fractures to be concerned with.

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