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Gastroenteritis in New South Wales: Travel Advice
An outbreak of gastroenteritis in New South Wales, Australia, has seen almost 800 people hospitalised. The disease is easily spread from person to person, so if you’re visiting the area this summer take a look at our travel advice before you go. What is gastroenteritis? Gastroenteritis is a stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhoea and may be either bacterial or viral. More common in young children, it affects adults through food poisoning or a bug called norovirus. Norovirus often hits the headlines as the winter vomiting bug, as it is highly contagious and outbreaks spread quickly. Common symptoms of gastroenteritis include sudden diarrhoea, nausea and projectile vomiting as well as other common flu symptoms such as aching limbs and a headache. How is it spread? Gastroenteritis can be passed on through contact or close proximity with a person suffering from the illness. The infection is typically passed on through the particles of vomit or faecal matter. This may include contaminated food, objects or surfaces, and even airborne vomit particles exhaled by someone suffering from the disease. Gastroenteritis through food poisoning can spread even if no one else is already suffering from the illness – food that has not been stored correctly or has been prepared using unclean utensils can often be at fault. How can I protect myself and my family? While it is a debilitating and incredibly unpleasant illness for sufferers, gastroenteritis is rarely life-threatening. As such it is not considered to be a serious disease, which is why the Foreign Office has not advised against travelling to New South Wales this summer. There is no vaccine currently available for viral gastroenteritis, but it is still possible to have a safe and enjoyable holiday to Australia. The most important advice against gastroenteritis given by the NHS is to keep on top of personal hygiene. As always, hands should be washed when using the toilet as well as before and after preparing and eating food. If you are preparing your own food whilst in Australia, ensure that everyone who touches it washes their hands. If you are eating at restaurants or at a hotel, do some research into the food hygiene rating of the establishment before you go. “Scores on the Doors Australia” is a similar scheme to the one in the UK, which shows a rating for food hygiene on the doors of any eatery. There is both a website and a smartphone app for this service, making it easier than ever to minimise the risk of gastroenteritis. If you are worried that hand washing facilities will be limited whilst you are travelling, be sure to carry a small bottle of hand sanitising gel or anti-bacterial hand wipes with you. Don’t forget that any liquids you are carrying on a plane in hand luggage need to be under 100ml in capacity, so make sure your hand sanitiser is travel-sized or decanted into a small enough container. Hand gels are not as effective as washing hands with soap and water, so only use these if you have no other option. What do I do if I catch gastroenteritis? If you think that you or someone in your family has gastroenteritis, it is important that they rest. Cancel any activities to avoid spreading the bug, and do not attend any engagements until at least 48 hours after all the symptoms have passed. Even if you feel better, make sure that you wait a full two days as there is still the possibility that you can spread the illness. Whilst you still have the illness, be sure to regularly disinfect surfaces that could potentially be contaminated such as kitchen counters, toilets and bathrooms. Be sure to use separate towels, cutlery and utensils and wash these separately. The same goes for bedding and clothing, which should also be washed separately and on a hot wash. Also be sure to drink plenty of fluids, as frequent vomiting and diarrhoea can potentially lead to dehydration. If you take any daily medication, be sure to read the leaflet which will have advice regarding the way vomiting or diarrhoea can restrict their effectiveness. Gastroenteritis often clears up in around a week. If symptoms are particularly severe and you feel that you or someone in your family needs urgent medical care, call the Australian emergency services on 000.
5 health risks the Rio Olympics should be more worried about than Zika
For those paying attention to the preparations for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer, there has been no escaping the controversy and speculation surrounding the Zika virus. A dangerous disease that has wreaked havoc in many parts of South America and, more recently, the USA, Zika has rightly been flagged as a concern. [Take a look at our article on the some of the most commonly asked Zika questions in our recent article here. But as many health experts have been quick to point out, the chances of contracting Zika are still relatively small compared to many other health concerns in Brazil. If you are heading to Rio in the coming weeks, here are 5 things to be just as careful to protect yourself against. 1. Water-borne illnesses Rio’s waterways have been in the international news more regularly than event organisers would have liked lately. A report commissioned by the Associated Press has shown that the Olympics’ open water events are at risk due to severe contamination with raw human sewage, at rates more than 1.7 million times higher than what Europe and the US would deem unacceptable. In fact, triathletes have been told not to put their heads under the water at the Olympics, as just three teaspoons of the water is “certain” to cause athletes to become violently ill. Respiratory tract infections, stomach upsets and even Hepatitis A are among the perceived risks. On that basis, tourists visiting areas such as the popular Guanabara Bay are advised not to step foot in the water. 2. Flu and other winter diseases Whilst August is the height of summer in the northern hemisphere, it is a cooler month below the equator. Of course, temperatures hardly ever drop below 20° C in tropical Brazil, but winter illnesses such as flu are still a risk. Health experts in the World Health Organisation (WHO) advise high-risk travellers (such as pregnant women, elderly people or those with respiratory conditions such as asthma) to get a flu jab before they leave. Other illnesses that are less common in Britain, such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria and polio, can all be vaccinated against before travel. Check with the team here at Express Travel Clinic who can advise on getting your injections up to date. 3. Sunburn, heatstroke and skin cancer Despite the cooler days, temperatures in Rio will be a lot higher than British tourists are perhaps used to. Rio still sees a lot of sunshine in August, so it is important to protect from sunburn and heatstroke. Spectators of the Olympic Games have been warned that sunburn should be their main concern, due to the long periods of standing out in the sun to watch the events. Be sure to apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 every two hours on all exposed skin, and check that your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Keep a water bottle with you to avoid heat exhaustion which can lead to heatstroke. Also, don’t forget that whilst Rio may seem like a perfect opportunity to get a tan, prolonged exposure to the sun can put you at risk of skin cancer, the fifth most common cancer in the UK. 4. Bedbugs Even if you aren’t travelling to Brazil to watch the Olympics, the price of flights and accommodation to the region have soared in the wake of the Games. Huge costs have prompted some travellers to look into budget accommodation such as backpackers’ hostels. But it is worth bearing in mind that taking a risk on accommodation in order to save cash can have health implications. Bedbugs are a danger anywhere you travel, but as Rio will see a huge spike in international visitors, you may be at a higher risk this summer as travellers unknowingly carry the bugs in their clothes and suitcases. Bedbug bites are not particularly harmful, as they generally cause nothing more than a bit of swelling and itching. However, in some cases repeated bites may lead to skin infections and even allergic reactions. It is also worth noting that bedbugs can live comfortably in your clothes for long periods of time and it is even possibly to transport them back home with you – putting you at risk of an infestation in your own bed. Make sure you plan where you’re staying before you arrive, and check reviews and local reports for any potential risk of bedbugs. Where necessary, take steps to clean sheets and use non-toxic repellants to avoid bites. 5. Dengue and Chikungunya Dengue and Chikungunya are, like Zika, viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. The WHO highlighted these viruses in a warning to travellers visiting Brazil this summer, making it clear that some viruses are in fact more worrying than Zika. Dengue is known to be a proxy through which the Zika virus can spread, as the two are both carried by the same type of mosquito. Fortunately, reports of dengue fever have been down in recent months as the mosquito season in Brazil comes to a close over winter. Chikungunya is another illness also carried by this mosquito, which causes fever and debilitating joint pain. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination for Chikungunya, so travellers are advised to be aware of signs and symptoms. Fever and joint pain can come on quickly, possibly accompanied by a rash, nausea and migraine. Symptoms usually start between 4 and 8 days after a mosquito bite. To reduce the chances of being bitten by a mosquito, be sure to use insect repellent, wear long clothes and sleep under a mosquito net.