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Get ready to be healthy this summer

April 03, 2012

Take steps to avoid common warm-weather infections. Find out what to do before traveling outside the U.S.


With spring in the air, people are beginning to plan more outings and summertime trips. Nothing can spoil an outdoor adventure or vacation like illness. So, this is a good time to learn about common infectious diseases that originate in the out-of-doors and what you can do to prevent them.

"The two major vector-borne diseases (those that are transmitted to humans by insects) seen in the summertime in California are West Nile Virus and Lyme disease," said Jevon Tang, M.D., a board certified internist and an infectious disease specialist with Washington Township Medical Foundation. "Although both of these illnesses are more common on the East Coast than in California, it is always a good idea to be able to recognize the symptoms and know what preventive measures you can take."

Birds carry the West Nile Virus, which can be transmitted to humans by a mosquito that has bitten the infected bird. Last year, 156 cases of the disease were reported in California, according to the State Department of Public Health. So far this year, there have been three cases of dead birds found to have this virus-one each in Sacramento County, Santa Clara County and Los Angeles. No human cases of West Nile Virus have been identified as yet, but the disease tends to occur in the warmer months.

The virus can cause a variety of symptoms, typically starting within one week after the individual has been bitten. The classic symptom mentioned in medical literature is paralysis, in addition to headache, light sensitivity and other symptoms seen in meningitis. The diagnosis is usually confirmed by doing a lumbar puncture and testing the patient's spinal fluid for the virus.

"Unfortunately, there is no good treatment for West Nile Virus, which can be fatal, so the best thing to do is prevent it in the first place," Dr. Tang commented.

He recommends that in the warmer months, to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, you should stay indoors during the insect's feeding times in the evening and early morning. If you do go outdoors, use mosquito repellent and wear protective clothing. It is also a good idea to get rid of any standing water near your house, where mosquitoes can breed.

Food as a source of infection

Besides the more common infectious diseases, you should also be wary of foodborne infections when you are picnicking, camping or traveling.

"Food borne infection can occur in any food if it is not handled properly," observed Dr. Tang. "So, keep food refrigerated until as close as possible to the time you will to consume it. Make sure you cook items thoroughly."

Symptoms from food borne infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Most of these will usually go away without the need for medical treatment. However, Dr. Tang warns that, if you have a fever or bloody diarrhea, you should see a doctor.

Before you travel outside the U.S.

If you're preparing to travel out of the country this summer, you don't have to go far to get high quality, knowledgeable health care services. Washington Township Medical Foundation has three clinics that provide the required vaccinations. The Foundation's physicians can also offer important health-related information and advice for your trip.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend that you have any necessary vaccinations about two months before leaving home. Which ones you need will depend on what countries you will be visiting. Check the www.cdc.gov Web site or talk to the consulate of the country where you are going.

Basically, there are three categories of vaccinations:

  • Routine vaccinations most people received during childhood. As we get older, the immunity can wear off, so you may need a booster.
  • Recommended vaccinations for hepatitis, typhoid, and meningitis, as well as antibiotics to prevent malaria.
  • Vaccinations sometimes required for travel to a specific country. The country may not allow you to enter without proof that you have had the vaccination.

At the Medical Foundation's travel clinics, doctors will also discuss your travel itinerary and suggest items you should bring to be prepared for possible health-related problems. These may include antidiarrheal medications or antibiotics.

"It is a good idea to obtain your medications here and take them with you rather then purchasing them in a foreign country," advised Dr. Tang. "You cannot rely on the quality of medication in other countries, and there have been cases of counterfeit medications being sold. In addition, antibiotic resistance is higher in certain parts of the world, so you should talk to someone with experience in travel medicine to find out which antibiotics are most effective at your destination."

Washington Township Medical Foundation locations with travel medicine services:
2557 Mowry Avenue, Fremont (510) 248-1550
1999 Mowry Avenue #2H, Fremont (510) 797-0700
46690 Mohave Drive, Fremont (510) 248-1065

Learn more

To learn more about warm weather infectious diseases go to www.cdc.gov or www.cdph.ca.gov.
For more information about Washington Township Medical Foundation, visit www.mywtmf.com.

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