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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

If you were to examine the surface of some types of fruit and vegetables through a microscope you’d see a maze of cracks and crevices.
Invisible to the naked eye, these tiny trenches are perfect places for germs to become trapped and multiply.
We’ve seen just how effective contaminated salad vegetables can be at causing food poisoning over the past week. As of Monday, 92 people had been made ill by salmonella across Australia after eating pre-packaged leafy salad mixes, with more expected.
Although the outbreak is still under investigation, food industry experts believe it’s linked to either contaminated fertiliser (from chickens), or to the water that was used to irrigate the crop or wash the lettuce before it was bagged at Tripod Farms in Victoria.
Salmonella is an increasingly common cause of food poisoning in Australia. There were just over 17,000 lab-confirmed cases here last year – the highest tally in 25 years. Many milder cases are not recorded at all.
Worryingly, strains of the bacterium are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.  

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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*

You may have seen them worn in nightclubs or at parties – colourful contact lenses. Cat’s eyes, snake eyes, all-white zombie eyes… the variety is endless.
Scores of websites offer these cheap, one-size-fits-all coloured contacts.
While they may seem harmless – a bit of eye-catching fun – the sale of contact lenses without a prescription is illegal in most Australian states.
But, illegal or prescribed, using contact lens can result in serious infections – even blindness in rare cases – if they’re not inserted, cleaned, or stored correctly and hygienically.
Contact lenses are actually medical devices. Although they’re a discrete substitute for spectacles, the important difference is that they come into direct contact with your eyes.
Ask anyone who currently wears contacts (or has worn them in the past). They’ll tell you that contacts can be just as problematic as they are convenient – especially during a trip overseas.

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

Thousands of Australian citizens and residents of Asian heritage will journey ‘home’ to their country of origin in coming weeks to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
In China, Lunar or Chinese New Year is a major holiday and its many regional neighbours – especially those with significant Chinese populations – celebrate the event on or around the same date as China. This year – the year of the monkey – it falls on February 8.
But, this annual cultural and religious event isn’t so much a single night filled with fireworks and fun as a festival extending over several weeks to herald the northern hemisphere spring.
The homecoming provides an opportunity to reunite with far-flung family and friends. During their stay the visitors from ‘Down Under’ often live in family homes in metro and rural areas.
But, the Lunar New Year celebrations can have serious health implications for both travellers and the wider Australian community.
Studies have shown that people travelling to visit friends and relatives (collectively referred to as ‘VFRs’ by travel medicine experts) are at much higher risk of illness than any other category of traveller, particularly if they visit a developing country.

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

Cancer is many diseases. Even people with the same type of cancer can experience a very different journey through illness and treatment.
So, when it comes to overseas travel, deciding on what is feasible (and what’s not) requires some very personal considerations.
Most people with cancer travel without problems and a holiday relaxing or visiting family and friends overseas is often just the tonic they need.
But, some shouldn't travel by air while undergoing treatment because of dangers associated with deep vein thrombosis or changes in the pressure or oxygen concentrations in the plane's cabin. More later on some of the factors that could make international air travel not advisable.
Planning for healthy overseas travel is smart for anyone – sick or well – but particularly for someone with cancer or recovering from it.
And, preparations should start early, allowing enough time to cover the steps suggested in this checklist.

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

The world has learned something new – and worrying – about dengue fever.
An estimated 390 million people are infected with dengue fever annually and 50% of the world’s population is at risk of infection, according to the WHO.
Almost all of the 1638 Aussies who had their diagnosis of dengue confirmed through a blood test last year were infected while travelling overseas – mainly in Asia. (A small percentage was infected in North Queensland, where imported cases spark localised outbreaks each summer.)
But, only about 25% of people infected with dengue actually get its symptoms – a high temperature, headache, pain behind the eyes, rash, and severe aching of muscles, joints, and bones (the reason dengue is also called ‘breakbone fever’).
It was previously thought that it was only these ‘symptomatic’ people who were able to pass on the virus to someone else through a mozzie bite. The reasoning was that only those who were sick would have enough of the virus in their blood stream to actually infect a mosquito that bites them, before passing on the illness by biting another person who entered their territory.

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