International travel around this time of the year is exciting. Because of the global economic crisis you can find good deals to almost destination. Most countries are safe and don’t require extra precautions or vaccinations, but it is helpful to remember a few precautionary steps, just in case.
Salmonella Typhi causes a disease transmitted through food or drinks that are handled or served after poor hand washing or when contaminated sewage gets into drinking or hand-washing water. It causes high fever, headache, body weakness, stomach pain and a rash.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says there are about 300 cases of typhoid fever in the United States every year, the majority resulting from international travelers. The disease is more prevalent in the Indian subcontinent, Latin America, Asia, Middle East and Africa. Although there is a vaccine to prevent infection by S. Typhi, travelers to those countries should know that the vaccine is not a substitution for careful selection of food and drink. So, the CDC reminds us to “boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it” as a rule of thumb when visiting countries with a high prevalence of enteric infections.
About 5 % of sick patients who recover from the infection will continue to carry the bacteria in their bodies and pass it in their stools and urine. Remember Typhoid Mary? Mary Mallon was a cook in New York City who was healthy, but she was a carrier of typhoid fever, passing it to over 50 people before the problem was identified.
Traveling is supposed to be fun and one can never pay attention too so many details. If being careful is going to make us become paranoid, we may as well stay home. And, believe me, I am not the kind of person who stays home because of being afraid of contamination. But a little information goes a long way, and I think the slogan the CDC came up with is cute and easy to remember.
Another piece of advice: if you are thinking about traveling to an exotic destination, check with your local Travel Clinic to find out what vaccines you could receive before you go. Some of those vaccines are not going to be “required” to enter the country. Remember, the vaccines are for YOUR protection, that is, to prevent you from catching something in the new location. They are not for their protection, that is, the other country is not afraid you are going to bring in a disease.
The phone number for the Travel Clinic in Austin is: 512-336-2727.
Marta Katalenas M.D.