I must say, I’m a happy person: I’m able to combine one of my hobbies with some of my daily work; travel to distant countries and being coach of Viruskenner Surabaya, Indonesia. As you might have read on our website, we have just got back from a short adventure in Surabaya. Surabaya is, after Jakarta, the biggest city of Indonesia with over 3 million inhabitants.
We had a week with special impressions. The most important one to me was the enthusiasm of about 350-400 students in high school SMA Negeri 16 Surabaya when they get to know the Viruskenner project. With their full attention, a beautiful Indonesian ‘good morning’ and some uplifting words of one of the Dutch Viruskenner experts, the shivers were down your body.
The return-to-daily-life mood (work should continue after all), was happy to be snoozed with the coziness of King’s day, where we could celebrate one extra day off work. Unfortunately, I ended up on the toilet that same night and bathed in sweat while lying in bed until the next morning. I was feeling sick. Not cool. It turned out that I was not the only person in our group. Was it our food, just before we left Indonesia? Or maybe the mosquito that bite me a few days earlier? The vaccinations were in order. Maybe I had to use a little more DEET? Should I have left that tasty foods aside?
Within my group of friends, there are just few people who do not like to travel. On the other hand you often hear negative stories from other people around. The flight takes too long, people do not like the new things, they do not like the food, it’s too hot (or too cold), hospitals are not good, the people are not nice… And yes, you can get sick. That definitely is a true risk and certainly a risk even more relevant than when staying in the Netherlands. In my opinion, if one simply takes the right measurements and preparation for travel – a lot of hassle can be prevented. By taking knowledge of the local infectious diseases and taking the appropriate precautions you can prevent disease or, if infected, have milder disease.
As an example I would like to explain a little about Hepatitis A, popularly known as jaundice. The transmission of this virus takes place through food and water, that has been contaminated with feces containing the virus particles. The disease can spread relatively easily, for instance because some infections are without symptoms (especially in young children). Vaccination against Hepatitis A is highly effective and provides almost 100% protection. Hepatitis A is not the only virus that can spread in this way; there probably are dozens, if not hundreds of viruses (or bacteria) that make us sick this way. Knowing how a virus spreads learns you about the preventive methods you can take (some examples): drink bottled (source) water, avoid ice cubes made from tap water, wash your hands before eating and be careful with “freshly washed” lettuce, et cetera. Super simple, yet (often) very effective.
Nevertheless, many people travelling do suffer from diarrhea and become ill somewhere during or around their travel. And yes, that also happens to doctors like me. Even when you know a little more about infectious diseases, than the average traveler. So, you cannot prevent it completely, but to skip your lovely trip because of some diarrhea would be a pity. And hey, one extra day off work after your journey isn’t that bad after all…
Traveling (with your parents) in the next weeks? Always check for information on the country you will visit. Many people do not realize that even for some popular destinations, vaccinations are advised. Ever realized you might need a vaccine when visiting a European country? Germany is a nice example, if you would go on a hiking holiday! A good starting points for your research is the website of the WHO (World Health Organization) or visit a local website, which might be able to refer to a local travel clinic as well.
Please note: this article was originally written in Dutch. Therefore, most of the references are in Dutch.