Disease threats to travellers

Woman wearing protective mask

The World Health Organization recently published a list of 10 threats facing global health in 2019, many of which could impact travellers. These include outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, the growing threat of drug resistant pathogens and the health impacts of environmental pollution and climate change.

One infectious disease of concern to WHO is influenza. The organisation warned that the world will face another influenza pandemic, but it is not known when it will hit or how severe it will be. WHO is constantly monitoring the circulation of influenza viruses in order to detect potential pandemic strains, and each year it recommends which strains should be included in the flu vaccine to protect people from seasonal flu. WHO has established a unique partnership with major healthcare players in order that, should a new flu strain develop pandemic potential, there will be effective and equitable access to diagnostics, vaccines and antivirals, particularly in developing countries.

Dengue is another concerning disease, as it is now spreading to less tropical and more temperate countries where it has not traditionall been seen. WHO said that an estimated 40 per cent of the world is at risk of the disease; the organisation has a dengue control strategy that aims to reduce deaths by 50 per cent by 2020.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a list of health concerns without an appearance from Ebola. WHO’s R&D Blueprint identifies diseases and pathogens that have the potential to cause a public health emergency but lack effective treatments and vaccines. This watchlist for priority research and development includes Ebola.

Air pollution is considered by WHO to be the greatest environmental risk to public health. It is closely related to climate change as the primary cause of air pollution is burning fossil fuels, which is obviously the major contributor to rising global temperatures. Microscopic pollutants in the air can penetrate respiratory and circulatory systems, damaging organs.

There are measures travellers can take to help protect themselves from disease. These include obtaining the required vaccinations for travel and avoiding mosquito bites. When it comes to air pollution, this is a global problem and one thing that people can do to help is to make use of public transport wherever they can.