• Dr Michael Oehley

Home Is Where The Hospital Is

A common misconception of travel-acquired illness is that you fall unwell overseas. People often forget that many diseases have a long incubation period, which means that you might be back at work, minding your own business, your holiday fading into memory - when suddenly illness strikes. Another misconception is that hospitals in the western world will provide optimum care for your illnesses. This is not always true of tropical diseases, about which western physicians might not know very much.

So what does that mean to the unwell returned traveller? My advice is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of certain diseases commonly acquired overseas, seek medical advice early, and be sure to remind your treating doctor about your recent travel and where you went. Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for:-

Malaria (found in Africa, the Amazon basin, parts of India, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and other parts of South-East Asia)

Symptoms - fevers, headaches and chills... then malaise, dark urine, coma, death

Incubation - usually 10-15 days after mosquito bites, can be up to 2 months or more

Read more here.

Hepatitis A (found throughout Central & South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Islands)

Symptoms - fever, nausea, loss of appetite, stomach upset... then dark urine, jaundice

Incubation - usually 28 days, but can range from 15-50 days

Read more here.

Typhoid Fever (found throughout Central & South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Islands)

Symptoms - worsening fever, stomach pains, fine rash, constipation, tiredness

Incubation - 8-14 days

Read more here.

Rabies (found in biting mammals throughout the world except N.Z., Australia, most of the Pacific Islands and a few other island nations)

Symptoms - don't EVER let rabies reach the symptomatic stage, because rabies symptoms = certain death. These include flu-like illness, tingling, anxiety, tremors, agitation, delirium, hallucinations, paralysis and then death

Incubation - days to months

The most important thing to know about rabies (if you haven't had your pre-exposure rabies vaccinations from your travel doctor) is to seek help immediately. Get the wound cleaned by a doctor, have a rabies vaccine a.s.a.p. and get human rabies immunoglobulin injected into the wound within 24 hours to 7 days of your first vaccine (the sooner, the better).

Read more here.

The above list is certainly not exhaustive - it only includes four of the dozens of potentially serious illnesses you can acquire overseas - but the take-home message is simple. If you develop fevers or other symptoms within weeks to a few months of returning home from overseas, get to a doctor promptly and seek medical advice. I am happy to see patients at the Waikato Travel Clinic if they would like a second opinion regarding their diagnosis.


Waikato Travel Clinic at Avalon Medical

6 Avalon Drive, Hamilton



T: 027 TRAVELS (872 8357)



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