Posted on April 15, 2014

As part of efforts to recognize World Health Day, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is raising awareness among travelers to ensure they protect themselves from vector-borne diseases. World Health Organization (WHO), which runs World Health Day, this year have introduced the slogan “Small bite, big threat”, which focuses on the increasing threat of diseases that are transferred through insect bites.

In Qatar, more than 600 cases of malaria have been reported in the last year, and in all cases, the disease has been acquired in countries where malaria is endemic, according to Dr Hussam Al Soub, Senior Consultant, Infectious Diseases Unit at HMC. Vector-borne diseases are carried by mosquitoes, ticks, flies, sandflies, fleas, triatomine bugs and some freshwater aquatic snails. Examples of the diseases they carry include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, leishmaniasis, Lyme disease and schistosomiasis.

“Vector-borne diseases are becoming more prevalent even in countries where such diseases are not endemic. In Qatar, for example, many people travel to areas where malaria is endemic, such as Africa, India and Southeast Asian countries. These areas are frequent destinations for both locals and expatriates, so it is important for people who are traveling there to take precautions to protect themselves against infection,” said Al Soub. According to the WHO, more than half of the world’s population is at risk from vector-borne diseases. Malaria is the most deadly disease, causing more than 600,000 deaths every year globally, while dengue fever is the fastest vector-borne disease with 40 percent of the world’s population at risk. These diseases are usually present in the poorest populations where there is lack of access to adequate housing, safe drinking water and sanitation.

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Dr Al Soub noted that people at greater risk of developing severe illness from malaria include children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system for various reasons, such as surgery or illness. He advised the following precautions for travelers:

  • At least one month before traveling, consult your doctor or visit a clinic that offers travel medicine such as the Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Clinic at Mesaimeer Primary Health Center. They will provide advice and necessary preventive medications for specific diseases that are endemic to your destination.
  • Timing is important, as prophylaxis and vaccines for certain diseases need time to act. For instance, preventive medications for malaria must be started at least two weeks before travel. Some vaccines need 10-14 days to provide effective protection against disease.
  • Be aware of which vector-borne disease or diseases are endemic in the area you are traveling to, and take precautions accordingly. For instance, when visiting malaria-endemic areas, you can take measures such as using insecticide-treated mosquito nets, avoiding going outside at night (as mosquitoes usually bite during this time), wearing long sleeves to reduce exposure and applying insect-repellent creams to your skin.

Watch out for symptoms such as fever, rashes, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding in the gums or anywhere on your body, and inform your doctor if you have traveled to certain areas where vector-borne diseases may be endemic, and if you have taken any vaccines or prophylaxis. This will help the doctor in investigating your condition and in prescribing the appropriate medications.