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Travel healthy: don't let the fever get you at the Rio Olympic Games

24 May. 2016 - 09:48
Travel healthy: don't let the fever get you at the Rio Olympic Games

Dr. Patrick Soentjens and Dr. Ula Maniewski give travel advice for people going to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro

In a little over two months, the battle lines will be drawn at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro (5-21 August). Thousands of athletes and travelling fans will get ‘olympic fever’; but to make sure that this fever remains figurative, it’s important for people to be properly prepared before going to Brazil. Dr. Patrick Soentjens and Dr. Ula Maniewski are jointly coordinating the activities of the ITM’s travel clinic. They explain what travellers to Brazil should be aware of.

Do you expect to see a large influx of people coming to the outpatient clinic due to the Olympic Games?

PATRICK SOENTJENS: Just like with the FIFA World Cup in 2014, we are seeing an increase in the number of travellers to Brazil. But there is no major rush because some people already made their appointments well in advance. Although we are expecting more travellers during the last weeks before the Games begin.

ULA MANIEWSKI: For vaccinations, it is important to schedule an appointment at least six weeks before departure, so that you can properly prepare yourself before leaving. Even if your vaccinations are up to date, you can make an appointment for some additional travel advice shortly before your departure. You can schedule an appointment at www.itg.be/afspraak

What kind of things should travellers keep in mind if they are going to Brazil?

SOENTJENS: First and foremost, you should be aware of the Aedes mosquito, which bites during the day and can transmit the zika virus, dengue and chikungunya. We also recommend everyone to get a vaccination against yellow fever. In addition, just like in all tropical countries, you may have to deal with traveller’s diarrhoea in Brazil.

MANIEWSKI: There is no malaria in Rio de Janeiro, but if you are travelling abroad preventive malaria pills may be indicated in some cases. So it is important to obtain thorough travel advice before your departure in any case.

Let us first look at the zika virus, because there has been a lot of ado about it over the past few months.

MANIEWSKI: Although infection with the zika virus is asymptomatic in many cases, it’s still important to be vigilant. Infection with the virus during pregnancy has been associated with serious defects in unborn children, including neurological problems. Therefore, we recommend pregnant women – and women who want to become pregnant – to avoid travelling to Brazil.

SOENTJENS: For example, if you are a female athlete competing in the Olympics and want to become pregnant at some point afterwards, you should contact a specialist in order to rule out possible infection.  
We recommend that all travellers use mosquito repellent (DEET) while in Brazil and, if possible, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, even during the day.

So you can protect yourself from mosquitoes. But what are the preventive measures you can take for traveller’s diarrhoea?

SOENTJENS: Good hand hygiene is the most important measure. For example, you can use alcohol gel to always disinfect your hands after using the bathroom and before you eat. If you still get diarrhoea, it is important to prevent dehydration as best possible by drinking enough liquids and eating soup or broth, for example. You can also take loperamide, also known as Imodium™, if you have a bad case of diarrhoea.   

Most travellers know about traveller’s diarrhoea, zika and yellow fever, but are there any lesser-known tropical risk factors?

MANIEWSKI: The adventurous traveller should be aware of bilharziasis, also known as schistosomiasis. People contract this worm disease when they come into contact with contaminated fresh water, after which worm larvae enter the body through the skin without causing injury. If you swim in rivers or lakes in northern Brazil, you have to see your physician afterwards for a check-up, to find out whether you have symptoms or not. If you become ill during the first few months after risky contact, you must inform your physician.

SOENTJENS: You should also watch out for skin diseases caused by ground parasites. You can prevent itching skin symptoms by avoiding direct contact with the ground, such as not walking barefoot on the beach.

If you only shuttle between your hotel and the stadium while in Rio de Janeiro, is the risk of contracting a tropical disease reduced?

SOENTJENS: You won’t encounter schistosomiasis in Rio de Janeiro, but you certainly have to protect yourself from mosquitoes. The Aedes mosquito flourishes in the city, and Rio de Janeiro is the city with the most documented zika infections to date.

MANIEWSKI: It is also wise to be well aware of sexually transmitted diseases. To protect yourself, make sure you take condoms with you from Belgium; after all, you never know how a fun evening in Rio might turn out. If you have unprotected sex nevertheless, contact a specialised centre as quickly as possible.

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