Dengue Fever Hits Thailand Hard – 2nd November 2015

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Here are this week’s top travel health update stories, all about diseases to be aware of when travelling overseas.

Dengue fever hits Thailand hard

In Thailand many experts long thought Dengue Fever only affected children. But more than 100,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease, and health officials are concerned. In fact there have been double the cases this year compared to 2014 and more than 100 sufferers have died so far.

Thai hospitals have blamed the spike on an increase in number of adult cases. Misdiagnosing people can lead to complications and death, so the news is positive in a way since it highlights how the country’s medical experts have finally acknowledged that the disease affects people of every age and are getting better at diagnosing it in adults.

This is vital since the country is suffering its worst dengue outbreak in five years. It’s so bad that the Thai Ministry of Public Health is currently exploring an untested natural medicine to combat it. Some experts say taking papaya leaf juice twice a day can increase sufferers’ blood platelets within 24 hours, but it’s more of a hope than a theory. As we write, the ongoing dengue outbreak in Taiwan also remains at a critical level.

Syphilis scare affects Australian gay and aboriginal communities

The Aussie health authorities are worried about an outbreak of syphilis that may have claimed as many as ten lives so far, all new borns in northern Australia whose mothers had caught the disease. Overall the outbreak is in decline but it is still on the move, having turned up in the Katherine area of the Northern Territory and moved onwards to the Kimberley.

Officials say syphilis deaths just shouldn’t happen in a wealthy first world country, but 2000 new cases were diagnosed through 2014 and at the end of October 2015 just under 2000 more were identified, making this the worst outbreak for more than three decades.

Just two specific groups are affected, namely northern Aboriginal communities and urban gay communities. In big cities the outbreak is almost completely limited to gay men.

West Nile virus outbreaks continue in the USA and Canada

West Nile virus was first found in the USA during 1999, in New York, a shock since before then it had only appeared in Africa, Eastern Europe and West Asia. Now things are very different.

More than 1600 people have been treated for human West Nile virus so far this year in the USA and more than one in four were in California, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease has been found in 44 US states as well as the District of Columbia, but the California Department of Health has just reported 48 more cases. In total 90 people have died of the disease so far throughout 2015.

The only states without reported WNV cases are Alaska, Hawaii, West Virginia, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont. In Canada cases have more than doubled compared to 2014, with 50 so far this year (mostly in Quebec and Ontario) compared to 21 during the whole of 2014. The end of October saw a total of 106 cases declared across EU nations and 134 in neighbouring countries.

Apparently 80% of people infected don’t get any symptoms at all. 20% get a fever, headache, body aches, nausea and sickness, swollen lymph glands / a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. Symptoms can last anything from a few days to several weeks.

About 1 in 150 people develop serious symptoms including high fever, headache and neck stiffness, confusion, coma, convulsions, weak muscles, loss of vision and paralysis. These can last for weeks and leave permanent damage behind.

Bear in mind there is no specific treatment for WNV infection. Medical experts can only treat the symptoms. It’s vital to do everything you can to steer clear of mosquito bites in affected areas. We’ve provided everything you need to know about insects and bugs, mosquito facts and how to avoid them. Visit our Travel Advice section for the details.

Cholera spikes in Africa

Mozambique has discovered almost 500 cases of cholera since September, and the original Tanzania outbreak is still a danger. In fact the USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a warning for anyone travelling to Tanzania.

It looks like the cholera outbreak has more than quadrupled in the last 8 weeks, a disturbing trend. Tanzania has reported 4407 Cholera cases so far (the latest figures date to 15th October) and there have been 68 cholera deaths. The worst-affected regions are:

  • Dar es Salaam
  • Morogoro
  • Pwani
  • Kigoma
  • Kilimanjaro
  • Iringa
  • Dodoma
  • Geita
  • Mara
  • Singida
  • Shinyaga
  • Mwanza
  • Zanzibar

Bear in mind the risk of actually catching the diease is very low for people visiting areas with cholera as long as you take note of a few relatively simple precautions. Local health experts are warning travellers to follow common sense precautions around food and water – here’s a link to our cholera vaccination advice page.