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Adventurous Australians are continuing to put themselves at risk of falling ill during or after overseas travel, with new figures showing less than half (46%) of those visiting at-risk destinations sought health advice before their trip.

Research involving more than 1000 outbound travellers has revealed that many aren’t aware of potential health risks abroad, and carefree attitudes are exposing them to potentially severe diseases.
In fact, at-risk destinations comprise over half of all resident departures from Australia (52%). At-risk destinations are those with a known risk to travellers of contracting infectious diseases that are preventable through vaccinations and other precautions.
Destinations such as South-East Asia and South America are travel hot-spots for Aussies where – for leisure and business travellers alike – there’s a potentially greater risk of illness from food and water-borne diseases, such as typhoid and hepatitis A.
“Australians are known for their love of travel and want to experience the culture and cuisine that these countries have to offer,” said Dr Eddy Bajrovic, the Medical Director of Travelvax Australia.
“But, it can expose them to many potential health risks.
“These can be avoided or prevented with the right knowledge and behaviour, which is why a visit to a travel doctor or GP should be an essential part of planning an overseas holiday.”

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By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

Hear the words ‘hepatitis’ and ‘international travel’ together and it’s likely Hepatitis A is being discussed.
Hep A is not only spread directly from person to person, but also through food, beverages and everyday items that have been contaminated with the virus, making it one of the most persistent risks for travellers visiting any developing countries – even those staying for just a couple of weeks in better quality accommodation.
In Australia, almost all cases of Hep A are among returned travellers or from outbreaks linked to imported foods, such as frozen berries.
On the other hand, the B and C strains of hepatitis, which are transmitted in infected blood and body fluids, are common here. For Aussie travellers, infection from hepatitis B, C or the rarer fourth ‘D’ strain are usually the result of unprotected sex with an infected person, needle sharing, or via contaminated equipment used during an emergency medical procedure, acupuncture, body piercing or tattooing.
But, travellers who visit Travelvax Australia’s clinics are often surprised to hear that there’s a fifth strain of the liver disease – hepatitis E.
Like hepatitis A, Hep E is also spread by the faecal-oral route, usually when sewage contaminates water or food, particularly raw shellfish. Large-scale epidemics periodically occur in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Central America, especially after floods and other natural disasters.

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By Lisa Ryan, travel nurse.

The world offers any number of travel destinations. But, calls to Travelvax Australia’s free travel health advisory service (1300 360 164) almost always start the same way.
Caller: “I’m off to South America. What shots do I need? Is malaria a risk?”
Me: (Takes deep breath) “Well, South America is a very diverse collection of countries. It’ll depend on just where you’re going, the season, type of trip, and how long you’re there. So, tell me more about your trip…”
Helping prospective travellers is all about judging the likelihood of potential health risks present in a country or region.
While the caller’s age is a factor, it’s the where, when, and how long of a journey that is critical. (We don’t discuss personal medical history. That would amount to a medical consultation over the phone, which we can’t do for legal reasons.)
So what’s the answer to the caller’s questions? I’ll get to that.
First, for anyone heading to South America (or Central America or the Caribbean), there’s been good and bad news regarding mosquito-borne diseases. 

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 By Dr Eddy Bajrovic*

Heard of herd immunity? Let me explain, because it’s important whether you’re travelling overseas or staying at home.

Think of all Australians as being part of one (very big) herd.

When any disease – let’s say, measles – comes along, those herd members who’ve had it before or have been vaccinated against it are protected through their individual immunity.

Should measles visit them again in the future, their immune system recognises the virus and they generate measles antibodies to kill it before it can make them sick.

High levels of childhood vaccination in Australia over decades mean that most members of our ‘herd’ are immune to the outbreaks of infectious childhood diseases that used to kill kids and adults by the thousands last century.

As a result of childhood immunisation, our national immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases is generally strong, so that occasional outbreaks don’t spread far.

(Unfortunately, herd immunity doesn’t protect us against seasonal influenza. Flu strains are constantly changing, so the annual vaccine formula needs to be updated each year in both the northern and southern hemispheres.) 

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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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Travelvax Australia this week joined Australian health authorities in urging parents of Year 12 students to ensure their kids are vaccinated before travelling overseas for schoolies celebrations this month.

Measles and hepatitis A are among the most common health risks for unprotected travellers – of any age.
But, besides getting sick themselves, the thousands of schoolies heading to Asian and Pacific destinations could fuel disease outbreaks on their return to Australia.
More than 100 unvaccinated Australian travellers develop measles or hepatitis A every year while overseas, according to the NSW Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Vicky Sheppeard. 
In 2012, a young adult traveller contracted measles abroad, sparking 170 cases in Australia and threatening the nation’s measles-free status. 

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