Travel tips: Health and holidays advice from Matilda Hospital’s Linsey Macdonald
11 September 2014
Scottish expat DR LINSEY MACDONALD works at Matilda International Hospital, and is an Honorary Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong. She’s also recently back from an adventure holiday in Africa – so who better to ask about keeping fit and healthy while travelling?
When did you come to Hong Kong? What do you enjoy about it?
I arrived in 1998. I love the convenient lifestyle; it’s a small city and easily accessible by public transport and cars. It’s also close to hills and mountains, and good for hiking and outdoor activities.
Tell us a bit about your job.
I’m a resident family physician at Matilda International Hospital. I work part-time in the Outpatient Department and I provide medical consultations and advice. I’m also interested in emergency medicine and cover the Matilda 24-hour immediate care room.
I’m involved in the hospital’s Family Medicine and Women’s Health doctor panels to discuss up-to-date treatment, treatment outcome, and how to enhance patient experience. I also work and teach medicine students from medical schools of Hong Kong.
I love my job. Matilda offers a comfortable setting. I usually spend time to get to know more about my patients’ lifestyle apart from any discomfort or medical problems, so that I can develop a good relationship and treat them holistically.
What are some basic health considerations to keep in mind when travelling?
Preparation, preparation and preparation! If you travel to rural or country areas of Southeast Asia or to Africa, like I did, think and prepare well ahead of time as some vaccination shots may take at least six weeks to help the body build antibodies to protect you from being sick.
Some countries require you to be vaccinated against certain diseases, and their immigration officers will check the records before you can enter the country.
Consider where you’re going, and whether you need to prepare mentally and physically with suitable clothing, gear, first aid kits and some medicines.
When travelling, always maintain good personal and food hygiene to prevent from travellers’ diarrhoea and other diseases. Don’t drink untreated water from shallow wells, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds or streams. Avoid using untreated ice or drinking water in places where the water supply might be unsafe.
What are some common diseases in Asia, and which “jabs” are worth getting?
Mosquito bites can transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and even Japanese encephalitis. Contaminated food or water can lead to hepatitis A and typhoid fever.
Travellers should have routine vaccinations such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio. Hepatitis A and typhoid are for all travellers to developing countries or remote destinations.
Adventure travellers, those going to high-risk countries, and those who plan on finding having new sexual partners, should consider a hepatitis B vaccination.
Hikers and adventure travellers, or travellers with young children, should consider protection against rabies if they plan to explore rural areas.
Everyone should consider having an annual flu shot to decrease the risk of influenza or non-specific respiratory illness, or the risk of having respiratory symptoms mistaken for avian influenza infection upon return.
Most common health issues among travellers
- Travellers’ diarrhoea. In some countries, as many as one in three travellers are affected. Some patients develop irritable bowel syndrome following travellers’ diarrhoea.
- Accidents such as drowning, injuries and traffic accidents.
- Dehydration and acclimatisation symptoms in high-altitude places.
- Common non-travel-specific problems such as infections, dental problems, “forgetting” to bring medications and deterioration of medical conditions.
Dengue is contracted by a mosquito that carries dengue virus; this species can transmit the disease between humans.
Usually, symptoms develop four to seven days after the bite, though it can be two weeks in some people. Symptoms can be mild or severe and include fever, headache, nausea, joint and muscle pain, pain behind the eyes, and rash.
There is no vaccine or treatment for dengue, but the symptoms can be managed and controlled. The mortality rate is very low at less than one percent.
This year, all cases in Hong Kong were imported, but dengue fever can be contracted locally. In 2010, a male patient with no travel history was found to have symptoms. His wife and two sons also developed symptoms. They all recovered.
According to figures from April, Malaysia has had the most cases in the region this year, with 21,967. Taiwan, by comparison, has had just 56 cases.
There is no vaccine for dengue fever yet. The best prevention is to apply mosquito repellent containing DEET to exposed parts of the body, and wearing long pants and shirts when hiking or going to scrubby areas. Other measures include the use of anti-mosquito devices and avoiding accumulation of stagnant water.
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