Although we often associate disease with developing countries, Americans heading to, say, Quebec City (Legionnaires’ disease) or Baltimore for a cruise (norovirus) are also vulnerable to infections and diseases.
How do you build up a defense against the microscopic invaders? David Parenti, an infectious-diseases physician and director of the Travelers’ Clinic at George Washington University, recommends some basic strategies. Many will sound familiar to a kindergartner: Wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Don’t put everything in your mouth. He also reminds adults to update their immunizations with Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or whooping cough) and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella).
I visited Parenti in his GW office, where he provided an overview of the most common viruses and bacteria and, most important, offered suggestions on how travelers can keep the vacation-crashers away. For additional background information, we consulted the Web sites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), both invaluable resources for anyone who doesn’t want to bring home that kind of souvenir.
What, where and how: Infected rodents spread this virus through droppings, saliva and urine. Humans catch it by inhaling the diseased particles in enclosed spaces. The virus is common in the American Southwest, especially the Four Corners region (the intersection of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah).
An ounce of prevention: Inspect your accommodations for evidence of rodents. If you suspect their presence, change rooms. (Note: Sweeping might eliminate the droppings but not the less conspicuous hazards.) Deter mice by sealing up food and plugging holes or gaps in your lodging.
Do I have it? With the exception of fever, the symptoms mirror the ones you’d experience after a long hike: fatigue and muscle aches, especially in the thighs, hips and back. Parenti also warns of gastrointestinal troubles and respiratory difficulties.
West Nile virus
What, where and how: The mosquito bites a bird, picks up the infection, then spreads the virus by poking its proboscis into a person. The current strain can be traced back to Tunisia and Israel in 1999; since then, it has expanded to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Canada, west Asia and 48 U.S. states. This year, the CDC documented nearly 70 percent of WNV cases in California, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma, Illinois and Texas, a current hot spot, particularly in Dallas. In the States, the virus thrives mid-summer to fall.