A LEADING authority on infectious diseases from Warwick is urging holidaymakers to take seriously the risks involved in foreign travel – especially yellow fever, rabies and malaria.
Dr Ravi Gowda, a consultant in infectious diseases at University Hospital Coventry, said it was vital people travelling overseas were made aware of all the risks and were individually medically assessed and vaccinated.
A specialist in tropical diseases, he said there were more people travelling to more far-flung places more often – thereby increasing the risk of exposure.
Dr Gowda told The Observer: “Some people take two or even three overseas holidays a year, often to places where diseases are rife. Also, there are countless school trips all over the world, and university students – either as backpackers or as volunteer aid workers – travelling to some of the poorest and high-risk countries.
“For example, malaria is predominantly in Africa, where 90 percent of malaria deaths occur; rabies is predominant in India; and yellow fever is rife in Africa and South America.
Almost half the world’s population is at risk from malaria – carried by mosquitoes that attack at night, it is one of the greatest killers. With yellow fever, which is carried by mosquitoes that bite during the day, there is only a 50 per cent chance of survival once symptoms develop.
“With rabies, which can be caught from a variety of animals, including dogs, foxes, monkeys and even cows, there is a 100 per cent fatality rate if left untreated.
“These diseases need to be taken seriously. With all of them the message is the same: seek medical advice and take precautions before you go and, if you feel ill when you get back, don’t delay in contacting your doctor. It is also a sensible precaution to take mosquito nets and insect repellents, which will help reduce the risk of malaria,”
About 3.2 billion people – almost half the world’s population – are at risk from malaria, with almost 200 million cases a year, mainly in Africa, and almost 600,000 deaths.
Rabies is one of the most significant and dreaded diseases in the world, killing an estimated 60,000 people a year. India has the highest rate of human rabies, primarily because of stray dogs.
Dr Gowda, in his capacity as director of Travel Klinix in Coventry, a travel health advisory service, has been going into local schools giving medical advice to pupils travelling abroad.
He also advises companies, diplomats, members of the Armed Forces, medical teams travelling to disaster areas and airline crews, as well as backpackers and students working overseas.