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What to Do When a Fever Strikes After Returning Home from Vacation

Tim Boyer's picture
Fever after vacation

You’ve taken all the recommended travel precautions with your family: had your immunization shots, avoided raw and undercooked dishes by street vendors, drank only from bottled water, and carried everywhere with you a well-stocked medical travel kit. You and your family have just had an enjoyable and healthy overseas vacation and made it home without incident.

However, soon after, someone in your family begins to feel off and develops a fever. You may chalk it up to jet lag and too much fun, and treat the fever with an aspirin and bed rest. What you may not realize, however, is that the odds are pretty good that your family member has contracted an illness from your overseas trip and is in need of immediate medical attention.

The following is a summary from “The International Traveler’s Guide to Avoiding Infections” of what you need to know and need to do when someone in your family comes down with a fever after arriving home from an overseas vacation.

According to Charles E. Davis, MD, fever is a common symptom in Western travelers after visiting exotic and developing countries that accounts for approximately 28% of all visits to travel clinics and tropical medical specialists. The majority of fever cases result from visits to sub-Saharan Africa, with Southeast Asia and India coming in second and roughly equal, and the remaining incidences traced to tropical regions of the Americas.

Malaria and dengue are the most common causes of post-travel fever. Eighty percent of returning travelers that have contracted malaria did so while visiting sub-Saharan Africa, whereas dengue infections are more common after visiting the majority of regions in Asia and tropical America.

Dr. Davis notes that in spite of taking precautionary measures like pre-travel immunizations and daily doses of prophylactic drugs, success from contracting disease is still far from certain.

However, post travel, additional measures can ensure a speedy recovery if a person is knowledgeable of what could happen and is aware of the symptoms of possible disease. Coming down with a fever or feelings of malaise after travel overseas requires that a person must actively seek immediate medical help with a full history of their illness and a complete itinerary of their trip to aid their physician with an accurate diagnosis.

A history of the illness should include answers to questions such as:

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• How long have you had a fever?
• Did it begin during the trip or after your return?
• If it began during the trip, how long after arrival at your destination?
• If it began after your return, how long after your last possible exposure in the developing country?
• What symptoms other than fever have you experienced?
• Were you treated during the trip, and if so with what?

A history of the trip should include answers to questions such as:

• Where did you go and how long was your stay in each place?
• Did you stay overnight in first-class hotels in cities, or sleep in small, rural villages?
• Were you there as a health care worker, veterinarian or field biologist?
• Were you there as an aid worker in a refugee camp or as a Peace Corp or other volunteer?
• Did you stay overnight with friends or family? Go on a safari? Swim in freshwater or engage in water sports?
• Did you practice safe food and water measures such as avoid ice in your drinks and avoid raw or undercooked food?
• What foods did you eat?
• Did you use insect repellent and do you know if you were ever bitten?

Answers to the aforementioned listed questions are the most important information that you can provide with a physician to help them narrow down the possible causes of the fevers and thereby administer the proper tests. With that in mind, Dr. Davis also notes that your choice of physician to go to for a diagnosis is equally crucial as most physicians are not familiar with foreign diseases. His recommendation is that:

1. If you received pre-travel advice from a travel clinic that you should return to that clinic’s physician for care.

2. If you did not go to a pre-travel clinic initially and/or prefer your own physician, then make sure that you request an immediate referral to a tropical medicine or infectious diseases specialist for a diagnosis.

A family vacation overseas in a developing country can be an enlightening and enjoyable experience equal to the joy of returning home to a familiar bed. If you or a family member experiences symptoms of illness after returning home, there is no need for panic, but there is one for concern. Make note of the dates and destinations of travel, keep a record of what you ate and did, write down when fever and other symptoms manifested, and seek qualified help as soon as possible rather than staying in bed with aspirin and hoping it is nothing serious.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “The International Traveler’s Guide to Avoiding Infections” by Charles E. Davis, M.D.; A John Hopkins Press Health Book (2012); ISBN 13: 978-1-4214-0380-9 and ISBN 10: 1-4214-0380-3.