Preventing Infectious Diseases

The WHO (World Health Organisation) lists AIDS; tuberculosis; and malaria as the three biggest infectious diseases; although it urges caution against these diseases, there are a multitude of other infectious diseases as well. The various kinds of stresses that may arise, and a change to one's environment during travel can make one more susceptible to infectious diseases. In order to protect oneself against dangerous infectious diseases, a broad knowledge of diseases is necessary. The bare essentials of infectious diseases are detailed below. Be sure to thoroughly read these 10 points before travelling overseas for a safe and enjoyable trip.

10 points to remember for preventing infectious diseases

1) Obtain information on infectious diseases about your travel destination(s)

Precautionary measures to take before, during, and after overseas travel can be found at CDC Travelers' Health (English website NB:external link).
FORTH, a website on infectious diseases for travellers(Japanese website NB:external link), provides the latest details on infectious diseases, has search functions that enable a country-by-country search on information for infectious diseases, and has necessary advice for preventing illnesses while travelling. Once you have planned your overseas trip, please be sure to look up these websites.

2) Be aware of how infectious diseases spread
Route of Infection Infectious Deseases
ingesting water or food Cholera,dysentery,typhoid,and hepatitis A
mosquitoes Malaria,yellow fever,dengue fever,West Nile virus,and Japanese encephalitis
rats plague
bite wounds from dogs, cats, foxes and other mammals rabies
water, dirt, etc entering a wound tetanus and coccidioidomycosis (infection of the lungs and skin)
blood or body fluids Ebola virus and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever
sexual intercourse*1 AIDS,syphilis,gonorrhoea,chlamydia,and genital herpes, hepatitis B, and others

*1 : please click HERE for further details.

3) Be cautious when drinking tap water

In areas that do not have a sanitary environment, there is a possibility that even tap-water is contaminated by micro-organisms. Drinking contaminated tap-water without treating it can be hazardous to one's health. Sterilise the water by boiling it for 5 minutes before drinking, or use a mineral water tap. If you are unable to boil the water, you can sterilise it by adding germicidal agents to non-turbid clear tap-water (do not try and sterilise river or lake water).

Method for Sterilising Water
  • 1% Sodium hypochlorite (pure) to 1 litre of water: add 2 ~ 3 drops and stir; let sit for 5 ~ 10 minutes.
  • 3% Iodine solution (commercially available decontaminating agent) to 1 litre of water: add 3 drops, and let sit for 20 minutes. Isodine for gargling is also available.
  • If you use cold water, let it sit for 2 ~ 3 hours before sterilising. There might be a slight smell of iodine, however, this does not pose any health risks.
4) Be aware foods that are hazardous to your health

Food may be hazardous to your health in the same way as tap-water is in unsanitary environments. When travelling, try and observe food that is being boiled, and be sure to eat it while it is still hot. The 3 following food groups are especially susceptible to diseases:

  • Fruits: Fruits that have been cut and left to sit for a long time run a risk of being contaminated.
  • Ice: There is a possibility that ice may have been made from unsafe water. Products to which ice has ・been added such as juices, whisky, ice-candy, ice-cream, etc. also run the same risk.
  • Dairy products: Salmonella germs easily multiply in dairy products. Be sure to boil before consumption, and be careful with putting fresh milk into coffee or tea.
5) Take appropriate measures if you have a bout of diarrhoea

Many people have bouts of diarrhoea while travelling overseas. Diarrhoea is brought about by viruses entering the large intestines, and the body's reaction in trying to rid salmonella and other such foreign substances. This is an important bodily function  do not try and forcibly stop or restrain yourself from performing bowels movements. Normally, diarrhoea naturally heals within 48 to 72 hours. The body loses a lot of electrolytes such as fluids and salt during this period; you should try to drink plenty of sports drinks, or sterile water that has salt or sugar dissolved in it (half a teaspoon of salt or 4 full teaspoons of sugar in 1 litre of water). In addition, try and avoid situations where you may become dehydrated. If you notice blood in your faeces for more than 7 consecutive days, you will need to have a check-up at a medical institution.

6) Be thorough with protection against insects

In order to prevent diseases such as malaria and dengue fever that are spread by mosquitoes, pay careful attention to the following methods for prevention:

  • Wear long sleeve shirts and long trousers when going out at night.
  • Spray your clothes with insect repellents.
  • Apply insect repellent creams to exposed areas of your body.
  • Before going to bed, spray the inside of your room with insect spray (mosquito repellent incense sticks or mosquito coils may also be used).
  • In areas where malaria is prevalent, use mosquito nets that have been treated with insect repellents.
7) Be aware of malaria

There is no effective vaccination against malaria at the present time. If you travel to areas where malaria is prevalent, find out what the current situation is like; in addition to taking thorough measures to prevent against insects, it is important to be aware of medical institutions that treat malaria. The main symptom of malaria is fever; because this is easily mistaken for a cold or influenza, if you are stricken with malaria, knowing which medical institution to go to can mean the difference between life and death. This is also be the case for other illnesses as well. However, with malaria and in particular falciparum malaria parasite, delaying treatment for 1 or 2 days could develop into a life-threatening situation. Therefore, taking precaution is necessary. We recommend that you ingest anti-malarial medicine (there may be side affects such as lethargy) as a preventative measure if there is high risk of being infected during your travels, sojourn, or when doing outdoor activities after dark. Anti-malarial medicines such as chloroquine (obtainable at pharmacists); mefloquine; and doxycycline (both available in Japan, however, a doctor's prescription is required). Please ask at the Health Clinic for more details.

8) Be careful of rabies

Rabies can cause death if medical treatment is delayed. Do not let animals come near you needlessly or feed them. Infection caused by rabies is not only limited to dogs, infection can also be spread by pets, wild animals, and all other mammals. Should you be bitten by an animal, get a vaccination at a medical institution as quickly as possible.

9) Get vaccinated earlier on

Depending on the country (or region), upon entry you may be required to produce documentation proving that you have been immunised; in addition you may also get non-compulsory vaccinations to protect yourself. At the Kaigai Ryokosha no Iryo Sodan (medical advice for people travelling overseas) counter in Tsurumi Hospital, on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday afternoon of every month(prior booking essential), there is a specialist doctor who can offer you advice on what kind of vaccination(s) you may need for your particular travel destination. For people who are considering travel overseas, leave enough time to see a doctor and get immunised before you leave. The type of immunisation you may require could differ from people who are intending to stay for a long time and exchange students to the average traveller. Therefore, it is best to ask at your embassy in Japan or APU in advance for what kind of preparations you should take.

10) Make a habit of taking a first-aid kit with you when travelling
  • Germicidal agents (added to water used for drinking, bathing, and for washing dishes): isodine and sodium hypochlorite.
  • First-aid kit with antiseptic; bandages; elastic bandages; sterile gauze; scissors; and tweezers.
  • Insect repellents: anti-agents; insect repellent spray; mosquito coils; mosquito nets; and insecticide.
  • Other items such as: combination cold remedies; relief for pain and fever medication (painkillers); medicine for stomach disorders; antibiotics; anti-itch ointments; salt, sugar, or powdered sports drinks; condoms; menstrual sanitary products.

* Try to avoid taking with you powdered forms of medicines as they can be mistaken for illicit drugs.

Reference: Kaigai e iku toki no kansensho HANDBOOK (Special Committee on AIDS & Infectious Diseases)

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