Advice on diseases and vaccinations | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Advice on diseases and vaccinations

Travelling is one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences you will have, and you certainly want nothing to ruin that

credit to dr_relling on flickr.

Travelling is one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences you will have, and you certainly want nothing to ruin that. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks of travelling to some of the most beautiful countries in the world, and that is diseases. While we may all be gods at handling the many forms of flu, man flu in particular, in this country, you may not cope so well elsewhere. So here is a list of some of the biggest and baddest diseases you may come across in your travels, and how to make sure you’re only chundering because of your vodka intake and not something more deadly.

One of the worst spreaders of disease is the mosquito; a bite from one of these little creatures might just be incredibly annoying, or occasionally something worse. These are the diseases an infected mosquito can cause.

Yellow fever

Found in parts of Central and South America and Sub-Saharan Africa (mostly the west), it’s a virus caused by a bite from an infected mosquito. The symptoms can be jaundice, vomiting, fever, muscle pain, and the incubation period is 3-6 days. Once catching it you will have lifelong protection from it, but up to 60% of people die from the disease. Ways to protect yourself include wearing insect repellent and appropriate clothing, along with getting a vaccination. In some countries, you may need proof of having a vaccination to travel. The nearest medical centre to the University is Bournbrook Medical Centre on Alton road in Selly Oak.


Caused by mosquito bites, 90% of deaths from Malaria are in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as also affecting many other continents such as South America, the Caribbean, South, South East and Central Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.
You can’t vaccinate against it, but you can prevent it by wearing long sleeved clothing, insect repellent, mosquito nets, and taking anti-malaria tablets. You need to take malaria tablets in advance of you going abroad, and continue taking them after for them to be effective in the case of most malaria tablets, but some directions differ, depending on the type you’ve been prescribed. You can get chloroquine and proguanil over the counter, but you will need a doctor’s prescription for other types. Be careful however, as some of the side effects for chloroquine are nausea and diarrhoea – if taken after food the effects may be reduced - headaches, rashes, blurred vision, and they are not recommend for those with epilepsy. Proguanil has some similar effects, but if taken while pregnant you may need folate supplement, with anorexia and mouth ulcers as possible side effects.

Dengue fever

Mosquito bites cause this disease, and it’s present in South-East Asia, Central and South America, the Indian sub-continent, the Pacific region, the Caribbean islands and some countries throughout Africa - mostly in the middle eastern section. It causes joint and muscle pain, headaches and fever. Lasting only a few days, it’s usually not fatal and without serious complications. No vaccination is available yet so the usual clothing and insect repellent advice is recommended.

Other diseases


Not to be outdone by the mosquito, a few other animals have got involved to join the fun, mainly rabid dogs, but watch out for bats, cats and monkeys too. Get bitten by one of these animals when they’re rabid and you could catch rabies. Found on most continents, the biggest risk areas are in Asia, Africa and South and Latin America. It lasts between 3 and 12 weeks, causing headache, fever, weakness and muscle spasms. There is no specific treatment for it once you’ve caught it, except using soap to wash the saliva out immediately, and make sure you get to hospital as quick as possible, with death the usual outcome. Vaccinations before going to any areas with the possibility of it are recommended, however the vaccination only gives you more time to reach the hospital, and doesn’t fully protect you from it.

Hepatitis B

An infection of the liver caused mainly by contaminated blood from sex, needles, blood transfusions and injections. The problem is worldwide but the highest risk places to catch it are Eastern Europe, Russia, India, China, South and Central America, Africa, South East Asia and the South Pacific Islands. It can last for up to six months, and usually causes fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and jaundice. To prevent it, the NHS suggests not doing anything that involves blood contamination, such as unprotected sex, getting a tattoo, piercings, or dental and surgical procedures in high risk areas.

Water and food infections

Typhoid, hepatitis A and cholera can all come about from infected food and water. Found mostly in Africa, India and South East Asia, symptoms for cholera include vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration. Typhoid causes fever, headache and confusion, and hepatitis A is mostly a mix of the two. Good personal hygiene and being careful of where you get your food and water is recommended. Anything with untreated water is a risk. If you catch typhoid or hepatitis A, you will need anti-biotic treatment and rapid fluid replacement. They both have vaccinations which will give you adequate protection. Cholera doesn’t have a full-proof vaccination however, so avoid drinking dirty water, and make sure your food is served properly.

If you’re planning on going somewhere exotic:

Check sites like for maps of which areas are considered a risk for certain diseases.

Find out if the country you’re heading to has any rules on travellers needing vaccinations or proof certificates.

Consultations with nurses or doctors can give you more personal advice on what precautions you will need, and which vaccinations are suggested for which countries.


2nd February 2012 at 8:52 pm