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Malaria, typhoid biggest health threat for western travellers

Washington: If you`re a Western traveller, malaria and typhoid fever should be at the top of the list of diseases to discuss with your doctor when you return, especially following travel to Western Africa or India.

In a study of more than 80,000 returned travelers who sought medical care for illnesses, around 3,000 (4 percent) were affected by malaria, typhoid fever and other potentially life-threatening tropical diseases.

Many would be surprised to know that not a single traveller contracted the highly contagious and lethal Ebola virus, which is typically one of the tropical diseases most feared by travellers.

"While diagnosis and treatment of malaria and typhoid fever and many other tropical diseases have improved greatly over the years, people still can die from them if they are not treated quickly after their symptoms begin," University of Oslo researcher Mogens Jensenius, MD, PhD, who with his colleagues analyzed 15 years of data entered into the GeoSentinel surveillance network database, said.

"Doctors and nurses in Western countries need to be vigilant in considering these potentially life-threatening tropical infections in recently-returned travelers with fevers, and identify and treat them quickly," Jensenius said.

Jensenius and fellow researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and several other universities throughout Europe, Israel, Australia and the United States looked at data from 82,825 ill travellers from Europe, North America, Israel, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

The travelers sought care at clinics associated with GeoSentinel from June 1996 through August 2011 with illnesses contracted during travel to the tropics.

They found that 3,655 patients-4.4 percent of the total-had one of 13 life-threatening diseases. There were a total of 13 deaths, 10 of which occurred in patients with malaria.

Malaria was mostly seen in travelers to West Africa, while most cases of typhoid fever were contracted by visitors to the Indian subcontinent.

There were no cases of Ebola, Lassa fever or yellow fever among the more than 82,000 ill Western travelers included in the study, according to Jensenius and his fellow researchers.

The findings are published online in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.