Whatâs the worst of times when travelling?
Itâs when youâre sitting on a bus tour 100 miles from the next stop and you begin to suffer the bowel spasms of travellerâs diarrhea. If the worst scenario happens, itâs a moment you will never forget. But this common risk, and the chance of acquiring other infections, can be decreased by ridding yourself of several travellersâ myths.
Myth: Only in the Amazon jungle do you have to worry about mosquito-transmitted diseases.
Fact: Thatâs not so. In the jungle, mosquitoes spread disease to humans by biting infected monkeys. In a cafe in Paris, Rome or Istanbul, mosquitoes infect you after biting infected humans.
Myth: So, to prevent this infection in a Paris cafĂ©, youâll have two glasses of chardonnay.
Fact: I wish it were true. Laboratory studies show that wine helps to decrease food-borne diseases such as E. coli and Salmonella. This action may be related to the organic acids in wine which have the effect of alcohol. A couple of observational studies also show that those who consumed wine or beer at meals were less likely to become ill during salmonella outbreaks than non-drinkers. But no studies prove alcohol in any form is protective against infectious disease.
Myth: Itâs impossible to get rabies if a street dog just licks you.
Fact: A report in the University of California Wellness publication says that most people believe you must be bitten by an infected dog to get rabies. Not true. The message is, donât get too friendly with a foreign Fido. Itâs rare, but if you have a cut, open wound, or abrasion, and itâs licked by an infected dog, you could develop this disease. This is also true for infected racoons, foxes and bats. One night in my teens, I was awakened by something flying around my bedroom. My parents diagnosed a bad dream. That is, until the following evening a bat flew out from a lamp. Experts say I should have been tested for rabies as a bite from a bat is hard to see.
Myth: Probiotic supplements prevent travellerâs diarrhea.
Fact: This is another misconception. Several studies published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease in 2007 suggested that different kinds of probiotic organisms may prevent this problem. But other studies concluded they have no benefit. So, let the buyer beware.
Myth: Suppose you were born in a foreign country and decide now is the time to return. Some people believe revisiting your homeland protects you from illness.
Fact: Sad to say, going home is not risk free. It is true that early in life in a foreign country you can build up an immunity to water and infections transmitted by mosquitoes. But immunity has often faded away by the time you return. The Centers for Disease Control report that people who emigrate to North America from countries where malaria is endemic, such as India, are at high risk when they return home or visit other malarial âprone areas. And sometimes the person returning home decides against taking anti-malarial medication. The only places that are risk free of malaria is where there are no mosquitoes, such as the desert, high altitudes or during cold seasons of the year.
Myth: Taking medication for malaria will protect you from other mosquito-bearing diseases.
Fact: Donât believe it. Other diseases such as Zita and Dengue are also spread by mosquitoes. But they are caused by different organisms. Consequently, treatment to prevent one of these diseases will have no effect on others.
Myth: When you begin a trip, it doesnât matter what seat you ask for on a plane, whether you want to look out the window or prefer easy exit from an aisle seat.
Fact: Sorry, itâs not that simple. Studies show the window seat is safer. Why? Because bacteriological studies prove the aisle seat harbours more bacteria that can cause infection. Maybe youâve noticed that many people, after using the bathroom on board, return to their seats by clutching the aisle seat headrest. Itâs sad to say that many have not washed their hands. Need I say more?
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a syndicated columnist whose medical column appears in The Guardian every Tuesday. Check out his website, Docgiff.com, which provides easy access to past columns and medical tips. For comments, readers are invited to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be found on Twitter @GiffordJonesMD.