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Traveling abroad this summer? Here's how to stay healthy.

June 24, 2014

    Paige Baschuck, Daily Briefing

    Here at the Daily Briefing, we spend a lot of time writing about the various disease outbreaks across the globe—and what providers and patients alike should know about them. Just this month, we examined the potential impact of Brazil's massive dengue fever outbreak on the World Cup and the ways that measles spreads through U.S. communities.

    Study: Deadly bacteria can live for days on an airplane

    For travelers, these outbreaks mean that vaccines, mosquito repellant, proper handwashing, and common sense are necessary when visiting some parts of the globe. Here's a look at some of the diseases to be aware of this summer:

    Middle Eastern Respiratory Symptom (MERS)

    Although the MERS coronavirus has not been deemed a global health emergency, it has spread enough to warrant TSA warnings at major U.S. airports. The virus first appeared in Qatar in 2012 and has since spread across the Middle East, Europe, and now America—with two cases in the United States, both involving travelers who had visited the Middle East.

    Even if you aren't traveling to those areas this summer, traveling through a major international airport could put you at risk. "MERS is still primarily a problem in the Middle East. But if one of those infected people gets on a plane and lands in London, Toronto, New York, or Hong Kong and transmits to another 30 people, everyone will have a different view," says Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert.

    Currently there is no vaccine and no cure for MERS. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and fever.

    TSA is posting MERS warnings at airports. Should you be worried?


    This mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean, infecting more than 100,000 people in just six months, according to federal health officials. CDC has confirmed at least 39 U.S. cases since June 10; all those cases involved travelers going to the Caribbean and bringing the virus home to Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Tennessee. Although rarely fatal, victims of Chikungunya "probably wish they would die" because it is so painful, says Robert Novak, a global health professor at the University of South Florida.

    There currently is no vaccine or cure for those affected, but preventive measures include wearing mosquito repellant with DEET, wearing long sleeves and pants, and using a mosquito net while sleeping. Symptoms include fever, muscle pain, joint swelling, rash, and headache.  

    Dengue fever

    Chikungunya isn't the only mosquito-borne menace to look out for. World Cup fans and other travelers in South American countries should be wary of dengue fever, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

    Could dengue fever threaten the World Cup?

    The surge of travelers to South America has contributed to sewage and water supply issues in Brazil, which can increase the spread of dengue fever. But most dengue infections occur in and around homes, putting travelers who stay in air-conditioned hotel rooms at a lower risk of infection, according to CDC epidemiologist Lt. Cmdr. Tyler Sharp.

    Travelers should be aware of possible dengue fever symptoms, which include headache, fever, muscle pain, nausea, pain behind the eyes, and swollen glands. The virus can be fatal, especially in individuals with diabetes, asthma, obesity, or cardiovascular disease, Sharp says. Prevention is paramount as there is no vaccine or treatment for the virus.


    The once-eradicated disease is making a comeback in the United States (thanks to decreased vaccination rates), and at least one major recent outbreak began when a traveler brought the disease back from the Philippines—where CDC  says it is still common.

    Measles: Why 'the most infectious' disease is coming back

    To protect yourself and children from getting infected with measles, CDC recommends following the vaccine schedule and ensuring that young children are vaccinated prior to travel to areas with outbreaks. Measles symptoms include fever, cough, rash, and red eyes.


    An outbreak of the highly contagious, deadly disease has experienced an alarming surge in recent months in Western African countries, including Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Experts are calling the latest outbreak the "worst" since the virus was first discovered in the 1970s.

    Experts don't know how to stop the world's deadliest Ebola outbreak

    Ebola has no vaccine and no cure. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, diarrhea, and vomiting.

    What else should you know?

    CDC has a handy traveler search tool that allows users to look up any destination and see any vaccine recommendations or health advisories for the area. The World Health Organization also has some resources for 2014 travelers.

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