02 July 2010

Disease risk alert for Bali travellers

Western Australians are being reminded to take precautions against infectious diseases when travelling, with a particular emphasis on people holidaying in Bali.

Director of Communicable Disease Control Dr Paul Armstrong said that travellers needed to take precautions against a range of infectious diseases, including mosquito borne diseases like Dengue fever, gastroenteritis, sexually transmissible infections, and rabies.

"Dengue fever notifications in WA have increased from 16 in 2006 to 151 in the first half of 2010, with most of these cases associated with travel to Bali," Dr Armstrong said.

Symptoms can occur within three to 14 days of being bitten and include fever, severe headache, aching joints and muscles, pain behind the eyes, nausea, vomiting and a rash.

Dr Armstrong said that while most people recovered completely from the illness, there was a risk of developing a rare but potentially fatal form of the disease.

The mosquito that transmits Dengue fever commonly bites during the day and in shady, indoor situations. It is important to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by taking precautions such as:

  • Ensuring accommodation is mosquito-proof. Use mosquito nets, flying insect spray, mosquito coils or plug-in insecticide mats in rooms;
  • Wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured protective clothing;
  • Using personal repellents containing diethyl toluamide (DEET) or picaridin. The most effective and long-lasting formulations are lotions or gels. Some natural or organic repellents may provide lesser protection, and
  • Ensuring infants and children sleeping or playing indoors during the day are adequately protected against mosquito bites, preferably with suitable clothing or bed nets. Only infant-strength repellents should be used on children.

Dr Armstrong said gastroenteritis was also very common in travellers and could be caused by a range of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Nearly one third of Salmonella infections notified in WA so far this year were acquired overseas, mostly in Bali.

"Travellers to developing countries need to be very careful with the food they eat and the water they drink. To reduce the risk of gastroenteritis people should avoid eating salads, raw or runny eggs and fruit that is eaten with the skin on."

Dr Armstrong said that sexually transmissible infections, such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia and HIV are also a risk in travellers who have casual sex, highlighting the importance of heeding safe sex messages, especially the use of condoms.

Rabies is also a serious risk in Bali. About 60 Balinese have died from rabies in the past two years after animal bites, mostly from dogs. Many of these bites have been sustained in the southern areas of Bali which are popular with tourists.

Dr Armstrong said that any mammal in Bali, including dogs, cats, bats and monkeys, should be considered a potential source of rabies infection. Risky exposures include bites and scratches.

Travellers bitten or scratched by an animal in Bali or other countries should urgently seek medical attention, and will usually need to complete a course of post-exposure vaccinations. Rabies is universally fatal once symptoms develop.

For further information and travel advice visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's travel website: www.smartraveller.gov.au

Media contact: (08) 9222 4333