Crew Vaccinations

 11 Nastiest Travel Diseases: What They Are and What They Do

Airline Operators who employ cabin crew members and flight deck crew members normally ensure that their crew have all the required vaccinations.  There are some charter companies who require their crew members to be responsible for their own vaccinations, so below is a guide to travel diseases that crew could encounter.

Wise travellers know to “get their jabs” before setting sail to some far off place. But why? What exactly are these diseases we’re all getting inoculated against? Will they lead to a grim and grisly death or just a good story to tell the grandkids? Here’s a summary of the ten nastiest travel diseases.

1 – Cholera

This disease is actually pretty nasty. You might pick it up in many parts of Africa and Asia, but it can occur anywhere with poor sanitation. You don’t want cholera because you’ll end up with diarrhoea, vomiting and fever, and it has the potential to be fatal, too. Jabs are all well and good but the usefulness of the cholera vaccine is disputed – some experts say its effectiveness is only 50%. Since you pick up the cholera bacteria from contaminated food and water, you should avoid uncooked food and un-bottled water.

2 – Tetanus

While tetanus is the kind of disease that could happen to you anywhere, the highest number of reported incidences are in places like India and countries in central Africa. Tetanus is also called lockjaw for a good reason – it affects your nervous system and makes your muscles spasm and seize up. But the good news about tetanus is that the vaccine is perfect, as long as you have your booster every ten years. Even in developed countries, five people still die every year from tetanus, so it’s worth getting the jab even if you’re not planning to travel soon.

3 – Typhoid

Typhoid has always sounded like a really dark and tragic sickness. What people do not realise is that it’s actually caused by the salmonella bacteria, and is transmitted if you consume food or water that’s been contaminated by the faeces of an infected person. Nasty! Its most commonly contracted in India and parts of Asia, Africa and South America. Typhoid is a disease that might hit you suddenly, but then develops slowly – you’ll get a fever, and after a week or so you might become delirious. In the vast majority of cases, it isn’t fatal, and the vaccine is also reasonably effective.

4 – Dengue Fever

Once you know that dengue fever has been nicknamed break-bone fever or bone crusher disease, you know it’s something you want to avoid. The initial fever is made worse by headache, muscle and joint pains along with a really unattractive rash. Dengue fever is most commonly found in tropical areas and parts of Africa, and is a bit scarier because it also occurs in more developed parts in the tropics, like Singapore or Taiwan. Mosquitoes spread this disease and there’s no commercial vaccine yet, so use a repellent and nets to avoid getting bitten.

5 – Hepatitis

The various incarnations of hepatitis are running their way through the alphabet, but travellers need to worry most about types A and B. Hepatitis A is found in developing countries including India, Mexico, Latin America and parts of Africa and is a nasty infection of the liver. Symptoms include fever, nausea and jaundice for a week or up to several months, but it’s rarely fatal, and it is usually picked up from contaminated food and water or close contact with infected people.

Hep A’s big, bad brother Hepatitis B is found in similar regions, plus the Middle East and some Pacific Islands, and can lead to a whole heap of liver damage, cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Fortunately, it’s also harder to catch, as it’s usually transmitted only via blood, shared needles and body fluids. You have to plan ahead if you’re travelling to a Hepatitis B risk area because vaccinations must start over six months before you travel. And this one can kill you.

6 – Malaria

This is one of the trickiest diseases to deal with as a traveller, because most of the medication needs be taken both before, during and after your trip, and some of it can have some unpleasant side effects. These days malaria is found in at least a hundred countries – the Centre for Disease Control has quite a handy risk map to check your destination. You can catch malaria from a mosquito bite, so covering up against these nasties is a must along with taking medication. Symptoms including a fever and something similar to the flu; it’s not usually fatal, but it can be. Scientists are still working on a vaccine against malaria, and that’s something that would be a big benefit to travels if they figured it out successfully.

7 – Yellow Fever

Another mosquito-borne nasty is yellow fever, mostly found in the tropical parts of South America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Victims usually end up with jaundice, hence “yellow” fever. But while yellow fever can also kill you, it’s easier to prevent because the vaccination is nearly always effective, and only needs to be administered a couple of weeks before you travel.

8 – HIV / AIDS

While definitely not only a travellers’ disease, HIV is becoming a serious issue for travellers in Africa and South East Asia where it’s become scarily prevalent, yet a lot of carriers don’t realize they have the virus. As a result, many of these people will remain untreated, and consequently die of AIDS. Fortunately, reducing your risk of contracting HIV as a traveller is mostly a matter of common sense and taking care. Avoid casual sex, use your own, high quality condoms if you do have sex with someone you meet, don’t share needles or syringes or get a tattoo or piercing.

9 – Japanese Encephalitis

Those mosquitoes are responsible for all manner of unfriendly diseases and Japanese encephalitis is definitely one to avoid. It affects the central nervous system, causing severe flu-like symptoms, and it can be fatal. The vaccine is quite effective, especially if you get the recommended two doses. Contrary to the suggestion in its name, Japanese encephalitis isn’t limited to Japan at all – it’s most common in agricultural regions of countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Nepal and Malaysia. Again, cover up against mosquitoes if you’re travelling in these areas.

10 – Meningitis

Meningitis is another disease that’s not exclusively the province of travellers or the third world – it can occur, rarely, in Western countries too. However, the “Meningitis Belt” is an area stretching across Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia where it’s relatively common for large outbreaks of meningococcal meningitis to occur. Meningitis usually comes from contact with, ahem, nose or throat discharges from someone who’s infected.

This time you’ll also start with a fever, but usually progress to vomiting, a stiff neck and a bad purple rash. There are vaccinations available (but not against all kinds), or antibiotics can treat it. If you have suspicion of having meningitis, it’s the sort of thing you want to check out immediately – untreated cases are often fatal.

11- Ebola

Ebola can spread from country to country when people travel. So it is possible for it to reach the U.S. if an infected person travels here. But there are ways to prevent people from coming to U.S. airports with the disease.

Airline crews are trained to spot the symptoms of Ebola in passengers flying from places where the virus is found. Crews are told to quarantine anyone who looks infected.

How Do You Get Ebola?

Ebola isn’t as contagious as more common viruses like colds, influenza, or measles. It spreads to people by contact with the skin or bodily fluids of an infected animal, like a monkey, chimp, or fruit bat. Then it moves from person to person the same way. Those who care for a sick person or bury someone who has died from the disease often get it.

Other ways to get Ebola include touching contaminated needles or surfaces.

You can’t get Ebola from air, water, or food. A person who has Ebola but has no symptoms can’t spread the disease, either.

What Are the Symptoms of Ebola?

Early on, Ebola can feel like the flu or other illnesses. Symptoms show up 2 to 21 days after infection and usually include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Weakness
  • Stomach pain
  • Lack of appetite

As the disease gets worse, it causes bleeding inside the body, as well as from the eyes, ears, and nose. Some people will vomit or cough up blood, have bloody diarrhoea, and get a rash.

How Is Ebola Diagnosed?

Sometimes it's hard to tell if a person has Ebola from the symptoms alone. Doctors may test to rule out other diseases like cholera or malaria.

Tests of blood and tissues also can diagnose Ebola.

If you have Ebola, you’ll be isolated from the public immediately to prevent the spread.

So, if you have your shots before you travel, and you’re relatively careful on the road, the worst case scenario is usually just a minor version of these nasty diseases.

Remember to check with the airline operator you are employed by as to which vaccinations are required to ensure safe travel.