Health Advice For Travellers During Summer Holidays

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Travel-Related Illnesses

Public planning to travel outside Hong Kong during the summer holidays should take precautionary measures against infectious diseases and other travel-related illnesses, such as high altitude syndrome.

The Chief Port Health Officer of DH, Dr Henry Kong, said, in view of the recent increase in dengue fever in South East Asian countries as well as human cases of avian influenza in Vietnam, Indonesia and Egypt, travellers should be vigilant at all time in personal, food, environmental hygiene for the protection of their own health and prevention of infectious diseases.

"There have been nine imported cases of dengue fever reported to the department so far this year and all of them came from South East Asia.

"This year, some of the countries in the region have recorded higher infection rates when compared with last year and the number of cases is expected to increase with the arrival of rainy season," Dr Kong said.

He pointed out that dengue fever was an endemic disease in Southeast Asian countries. The best way to prevent it while visiting these places was to avoid mosquito bites.

Dr Kong urged travellers to take the following preventive measures:

* Wear long-sleeved tops and trousers;

* Use insect repellent containing DEET over the exposed parts of the body;

* Rest in air-conditioned or well-screened rooms; and

* Use mosquito screens or nets when rooms are not air-conditioned.

Meanwhile, DH has been closely monitoring the situation of avian influenza, Dr Kong said.

A series of preventive measures against avian influenza are already in place in Hong Kong. These measures include the broadcasting of health messages on board all in-bound flights from countries with recent human avian influenza cases. Health information leaflets are also being distributed to passengers leaving for these countries.

Travellers are advised to avoid direct contact with chickens, their faeces or visit to farms. If contacts have been made, they should wash hands thoroughly with liquid soap and water as soon as possible.

"They should also be cautious of any symptoms of influenza-like illness including fever, sore throat and coughing after returning to Hong Kong. If symptoms developed, they should seek medical attention promptly and provide the travel history to the doctor," Dr Kong noted.

As for hazard related to environmental health, Dr Kong said high altitude syndrome in mountainous areas was one of the health risks to travellers.

"Travellers who will be visiting places in high altitudes need to be aware of the symptoms and take measures to reduce the harmful effects.

"High altitude syndrome appears typically on rapid ascent to altitude above 2 500 metres such as flying or driving directly to Lhasa or Kilimanjaro," Dr Kong said.

Symptoms of high altitude syndrome occur gradually after few hours of ascent. The symptoms include:

* Headache (usually throbbing, on both sides, worse during night time and on awakening, made worse by bending over);

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* Nausea, fatigue and dizziness;

* Sleep difficulty, sudden awakening and a feeling of suffocation;

* Irritability and loss of appetite;

* Swelling of the face, hands and feet.

Severe altitude sickness symptoms include:

* Change in behaviour;

* Disabling weakness;

* Loss of coordination;

* Breathlessness even at rest;

* Lips or fingernails turned blue.

"Being young and fit offer no protection. Slow ascend and adequate rest are the golden principles," Dr Kong said.

Other preventive measures against high altitudes syndrome include:

* Avoid flying or driving directly to very high altitudes;

* Minimise exertion and drink plenty of water;

* Avoid alcohol, large meals and sleeping pills during the first few days upon arrival;

* Keep warm to prevent cold exposure;

* Don't force yourself to keep up with the pace of others. If necessary, leave the group and descend to places at lower altitude immediately.

* Never ignore the early warning symptoms and signs as severe altitude sickness can be fatal within a few hours;

* Never rely on painkiller to handle headache in high altitude areas;

* Preventive medicines are available. Travellers should seek pre-travel medical consultation and advice for proper use of the preventive medications;

* Travellers with chronic medical conditions or respiratory track infections should seek pre-travel medical advice before the journey.

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