These Diseases Mean Business

U.S. warns business travelers about threat of infectious diseases abroad

THURSDAY, April 25, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- It's always nice to bring home something for the family after you've been away on a business trip. Just make sure it isn't a deadly disease.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has just issued a travel health bulletin to warn business travelers about infectious diseases abroad, and to provide information on how to guard against infection.

Hepatitis, typhoid fever, malaria, yellow fever, cholera, rabies and polio are among the diseases you may encounter if you're a briefcase-bearing globetrotter. Pre-trip vaccinations and/or drugs will protect you from many of these diseases.

Proper precautions aren't just for your own health. They'll prevent you from contracting a disease you could carry back home to infect your family, friends, co-workers and others in your community.

"More people are traveling on business to areas of the world where there are health problems," says an OSHA spokeswoman. "The information that we had was that not everybody was aware that they needed to take precautions or that it was an issue that faced you on business travel."

She says the bulletin was issued this month as a reminder to companies that this is an important health issue. The memo suggests business travelers get medical advice about potential threats to health in countries they plan to visit. And they should take proper preventative measures, such as vaccinations, before they leave the United States.

The bulletin also includes safety advice about drinking water, food, swimming and contact with animals.

In 2000, 35 percent of international travel by U.S. residents was work-related. And 7 million to 8 million Americans travel annually to countries where malaria is present, says the OSHA bulletin.

In 1998, there were 636 cases of malaria in returning U.S. travelers, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The OSHA bulletin is a valuable reminder to companies and their employees about the threat of infectious diseases abroad, says John M. Clymer, president of Partnership for Prevention, a non-profit health policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.

"It just makes good sense to make oneself aware of these things ahead of time and take simple steps to prevent them, rather than waiting to be struck by a disease and having to deal with the consequences," Clymer says.

"As the world becomes smaller and it becomes easier to travel to all corners of the world, you find business travelers going to places that were only infrequently visited in the past," he says.

Clymer says the United States has been so successful in curbing many diseases that most Americans don't give them much thought. That would certainly change if you became a disease carrier and infected those around you.

You may not even know you're infected until it's too late. For example, you can carry and transmit the hepatitis A and B viruses without showing any symptoms, Clymer says.

"Most people would feel very, very bad if they found out they were the cause of a very serious disease on the part of a family member or friend or colleague," he says.

"That's another good reason for employers to be motivated to do this," Clymer adds. "Not only to protect the employees who are traveling abroad, but also to protect all of the people in their workforce who work with and would come into contact with the international business travelers within their ranks."

What To Do

Go here to see the complete OSHA bulletin.

Whether you're a business traveler or economy-class tourist, you can find loads of information about infectious diseases around the world, along with advice about how to stay healthy, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For a directory of travel medicine clinics in the United States, check the International Society of Travel Medicine.

SOURCES: John M. Clymer, president, Partnership for Prevention, Washington, D.C.; OSHA spokeswoman and technical information bulletin Safety and Health During International Travel
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