It’s the time of year again when all our backpacking students return from the four corners of the world. Some will be arriving for the first time in Bristol, as international students of course, and many of you will have been traipsing through the jungles/ beaches and villages of the world’s most remote places, possibly even to Coca-cola free zones!
Unfortunately, even if you did everything right, had every last jab, and took all your malaria pills, you may still be at risk of post-travelling illness, so here is a quick summary of what to watch for and what to act on;
- Tell the nurse/ doctor exactly where you have been, and dates
- Tell them if you worked in ‘at risk’ environments, eg in a hospital/ clinic
- Most illnesses will be common conditions like pneumonia/ fungal skin rashes
- Be honest about malaria tablet history and compliance
- Report any treatment tried or taken overseas
- Fever is a common symptom requiring medical attention in returning travellers, especially if it is accompanied by; rash/ jaundice/ breathing difficulties/ bruising/ persistent vomiting/ altered conscious level or paralysis (the latter are extremely rare with only 0.3% of unwell travellers ever requiring hospital admission).
- Malaria commonly presents with fever, chills, sweats, headaches, muscle pains, nausea and vomiting.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin, and whites of the eyes) can indicate Hepatitis, most commonly type A, from infected food and water.
- Arbovirus infections (Dengue, West Nile and Chikungunya fevers) are the main cause of viral fevers in returning travellers, and tend to have short incubation periods, typically less than two weeks .ie you will show symptoms within 2 weeks of being infected.
- Diarrhoea is extremely common in travellers, and those who develop three or more loose stools in an eight-hour period, especially if associated with nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, or blood in stools, may benefit from antibiotics.
- Prolonged, severe diarrhoea with blood should be reviewed by a GP.
- Skin rashes are very common, and should be reviewed by your GP if not settling, or if associated with fever.
- The vast majority of travellers’ infections have a short incubation period, meaning that symptoms will start within 10 days or less from infection. The notable exceptions are schistosomiasis (bilharzia)/ malaria/ TB/yellow fever, and Q fever.
Therefore, if you continue to feel unwell despite being home, and eating and drinking normally for you, then please come and see one of the GPs. You may also find it useful to look at the following;