Healthy living

Infectious diseases found overseas

If you are travelling overseas you should:

  • be prepared
  • understand the health risks you could face in the places you are travelling to, which means finding out about common infections and their symptoms
  • take all reasonable measures to prevent illness and injury.

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that can be passed from animals to people. It can be found in most parts of the world, including Africa, the Americas, continental Europe and South East Asia.

In 2012, more than 250 Western Australians travelling overseas were bitten or scratched by animals, mainly in Bali, Indonesia, and they required a course of rabies vaccinations afterwards to help minimise the risk of infection. Around 100 Balinese died from rabies in 2009-2010 after animal bites, mostly from dogs.

You are at risk of getting rabies if you are bitten or scratched by an infected animal or come into contact with the animal’s saliva. Any mammal, including dogs, cats, bats and monkeys, are a possible source of rabies infection and any contact should be avoided.

Seek urgent medical attention if you are bitten or scratched by an animal in a region where rabies is known to be present, including Bali, Indonesia. You will usually need to complete a course of several vaccinations. Rabies is fatal once symptoms develop.

Schistosomiasis (bilharzia)

Schistosomiasis (bilharzia) is a disease caused by parasitic worms found in Africa, parts of Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

You can get this infection from swimming, wading, rafting, washing and/or drinking water from freshwater streams, canals and lakes that contain immature schistosome worms (larvae).

Symptoms may include skin itch or rash at the time of exposure.

Chronic infection of the liver or bladder can cause:

  • diarrhoea
  • abdominal pain
  • enlarged liver and spleen
  • pain on passing urine
  • urinating more often
  • blood in the urine.

To minimise the risk of larvae penetrating (breaking through) your skin after brief or accidental water exposure:

  • towel dry exposed areas briskly
  • apply 70 per cent alcohol or methylated spirits to the skin.

Avoid walking in the shallows or edges of any water.

Wearing shoes in areas of poor hygiene (cleanliness) will offer protection to against hookworm and other parasites that can penetrate (break through) your skin. Shoes also reduce the risk of stepping on discarded injecting drug equipment and getting a needle-stick injury.

Infections transmitted sexually or by blood

If you have unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex you face a significant risk of getting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

You can get blood-borne virus infections (viruses that can be transmitted via blood) such as hepatitis Bhepatitis C and HIV through:

  • sharing injecting drug equipment (including needles and syringes)
  • unsterile body piercing or tattooing procedures
  • receiving infected blood or blood products
  • the use of unsterile (contaminated) medical equipment
  • sexual practices where blood may be involved.

To reduce your risk of getting an STI or blood-borne virus the most important factor is your own behaviour.

Learn more about Infections transmitted sexually or by blood overseas.

Mosquitoes

In many overseas countries mosquitoes can infect people with dangerous diseases such as malaria, Japanese encephalitis, dengue fever and yellow fever. These are known as mosquito-borne diseases.

Learn more about mosquito-borne diseases and how to protect yourself while overseas.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis, commonly called ‘gastro’, is an infection of the digestive system. Around 20 to 50 per cent of travellers will suffer from diarrhoeal infections.

These infections are caused by poor personal hygiene (cleanliness) or by eating food and drinking fluids contaminated with bacteria, viruses or worms.

Learn more about Gastroenteritis overseas.

What if I get sick after I come back to Australia?

Symptoms of some diseases may take days to months to develop after you have returned home. If you become unwell tell your doctor of any overseas travel undertaken within the previous 12 months.

More information

  • Visit SmartTraveller (external site) for more information about travel insurance, travelling with medication, travel vaccinations and other general travel advice.

Remember

  • Discuss your travel plans with your GP well in advance.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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