Nasty travel diseases

Posted Date: 08 March 2016
Travel disease

We all know getting sick can ruin your holiday. And it’s safe to say that being holed up in the hotel room whilst everyone else is out enjoying the poolside bar isn’t how you imagined your tropical getaway playing out.

But a bout of the sniffles isn’t the worst of it - serious diseases like dengue and even rabies still pose a risk to unwary travellers.

Thankfully, there are some simple ways you can avoid illnesses like these overseas. We’re here to shed light on six nasty travel diseases so you can steer clear of a holiday nightmare.

1. Zika virus

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently declared the Zika virus a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. Some worried travellers have been changing their holiday plans, often without understanding if they are at risk.

Zika is transmitted by mosquitoes and often doesn’t have any symptoms. In some cases, the virus causes fever, joint pain and headaches, but generally doesn’t require hospitalisation.

Because Zika has been linked to serious birth defects in newborns, the WHO advises pregnant women to take special precautions.

Countries in Central and South America, and parts of the Pacific Islands have seen the most reported cases of the Zika virus. While we love hearing about exotic adventures in unique places like these, it’s important to stay up-to-date with official health warnings on the Safe Travel government website.

Travellers are currently advised to use a high degree of caution* in affected countries. If you book a holiday to a destination that already has a ‘Do not travel’ or ‘Reconsider your need to travel’ advisory, we’re unable to offer you cover if you need to make a claim related to that travel warning.

If you have a policy with SCTI and want to find out if you’re covered, check out our latest travel advice.

As with other mosquito-borne diseases, avoiding bites is the key to staying healthy. This can be easier said than done, but there are a few simple tips to remember:

  • Wear insect repellent whenever possible
  • Use a mosquito net at night
  • Cover up with loose-fitting, long sleeved clothing
  • Close windows and use air conditioning
  • Avoid standing water - mosquitos love it


2. Rabies

Not only is rabies one of the most widespread infectious diseases, it’s also one of the deadliest. In 2015, 15 people died of rabies in Bali alone. The virus is spread by the saliva of infected animals and is usually transmitted to humans by licks, bites and scratches.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), once symptoms of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal.

The best way to avoid rabies is to avoid animals. If your trip involves a lot of time outdoors, whether that be camping or hiking, always take special care around animals no matter how docile they might appear. Stray dogs are common in the streets of many parts of Asia, and Central and South America, so even if you plan to stick to the resorts and restaurants, it’s important to keep your guard up.

If you’re visiting a high-risk area, your doctor will recommend a rabies vaccination. However, if you get bitten or scratched by an animal overseas you must seek medical treatment straight away, even if you’re vaccinated.

If you’re travelling with children, remind them to look but not touch!

3. Tuberculosis

There are nearly 1.5 million tuberculosis-related deaths around the world each year. But interestingly, not everyone infected with tuberculosis (TB) gets sick.

TB normally affects the lungs, causing coughing, tiredness, loss of appetite, fever and weight loss. Like other airborne diseases, TB is transmitted when infected people cough, sneeze and speak. A TB vaccine exists, but according to the CDC, it’s not very effective.

So how can you avoid TB? The most obvious answer is to avoid coming into contact with anyone who has active TB as it’s highly contagious. But there are also some other tips and tricks that could help:

  • Get a protein boost - too little in your diet can weaken your immune system.
  • If you’re stuck in the bar without hand sanitiser, use a dash of vodka on your hands instead.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed; it disrupts rapid eye movement sleep which is needed to stay healthy.
  • If you pass somebody coughing or sneezing, exhale slowly until you’re a good distance away.


4. Flu

Some of us may think “no big deal” when we hear the word flu. But although it may be common, it can cause serious health complications, particularly for people with existing health problems.

Nonetheless, even a fairly mild case can take the shine off your well-deserved break.

Like tuberculosis, flu is an airborne respiratory disease spread by coughing and sneezing. But unlike TB, the annual vaccination is very effective in protecting yourself against the virus.

Simple precautions like avoiding touching your face, avoiding close contacts on public transport and using antibacterial wipes and hand sanitisers will help you stay healthy.

5. Dengue fever

Severe cases of the nasty dengue fever can cause intense stomach pain, bleeding from the gums, repeated vomiting and even death. As if there weren’t already enough reasons to dislike mosquitoes!

Unlike its mosquito-borne cousin, Malaria, there is no vaccine or medication to prevent dengue. Keeping up to date with current alerts for the dengue virus and taking special care to avoid bites in high-risk areas is your best defence.

Tropical areas are typically the most at-risk of the virus, but there are also occasional outbreaks across the world. In October 2015, there was a dengue outbreak in an Egyptian village that saw 253 people hospitalised.

6. Typhoid

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection transmitted through contaminated food and water. It causes fever, stomach pains, headache and weakness. It is most common in developing countries with poor sanitation, including India, South America, Egypt and South East Asia.

As with rabies, your doctor will recommend a typhoid vaccination if you are travelling to a high-risk area. But according to the CDC, it’s only 50%-80% effective, so being selective about your food is crucial.

To reduce your risks, avoid the following foods:

  • Raw or undercooked food, including seafood and salads
  • Street food unless it has been cooked in your presence and doesn’t contain any uncooked extras
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables - unless you can peel them, like bananas and oranges
  • Unpastuerised dairy products
  • Game meat - monkeys, bats, or other wild game

Avoiding contaminated water can be tricky, especially when ordering drinks at the bar. Make sure to ask for no ice cubes, and stick to bottled water. For adventure travellers, investing in a water-filter and water-purification tablets is a must.

We know how upsetting it can be to fall sick overseas. Which is why all of our policies include Southern Cross Worldwide Emergency Assistance, giving you access to one of the world’s largest networks of emergency medical resources at all times.

If you’ve got any questions about your cover, pre-existing medical conditions or would just like to ask our advice, send us an email on

*As of 25/02/16

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Issued and underwritten by Southern Cross Benefits Limited trading as Southern Cross Travel Insurance. 

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