Holiday travel: health risks, outbreaks you need to know about

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… to travel internationally. But if you want to make sure some Grinch doesn’t ruin your overseas vacation, you need to be aware of health risks around the world this holiday season.

“We’re not hearing much about Zika in the news, but it’s still a concern in several countries,” says Dr. Dorothy Contiguglia, a travel medicine specialist at FIU Health, the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine faculty group practice on campus. “We also have outbreaks of measles, rubella and an ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Congo.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says many countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa and Asia have risk of Zika and is warning pregnant women against travel to those countries.

There are outbreaks of measles in several European countries including England, France, Italy, Greece, Romania and Serbia — which are popular holiday destinations.

There’s an outbreak of rubella, also called German measles or three-day measles, in Japan. Rubella is very dangerous for a pregnant woman and her baby. It can cause miscarriage or serious birth defects. Pregnant women should not travel to Japan during this outbreak!

“Vaccines are your best protection. Make sure you and your kids are up-to-date on your MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine,” says Contiguglia. “It’s also a good idea to get a flu shot before you travel.”

If you’re taking to the seas for the holidays beware of reports of cruise ship outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea, primarily caused by norovirus. “The key here is to wash your hands often with soap and water,” adds Contiguglia.

Plan ahead
If you’re not sure about the health risks of your particular holiday destination, Contiguglia suggests you make an appointment with a travel medicine specialist, preferably at least a month before you leave, to learn about possible health concerns and vaccines you may need.

Which means if you’re planning a Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year’s vacation, times a ticking.

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