WE ARE lucky enough to live in a relatively disease-free country, but many employees of the global energy industry travel abroad to work in parts of the world where pre-travel vaccinations and immunisations are essential.
Signs and symptoms of illness post-travel must be reported to a medical professional, even if it’s up to a year after you have returned.
They could include: fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, headache, lethargy and rash.
It’s particularly important to take notice of your health when you return from a country where malaria is present. Remember, you must continue with your anti-malarial treatment for the specified time, which could be seven days or four weeks.
If you develop regular fevers with shivering and sweating – even if it’s up to a year later – then you should see your GP immediately, and be sure to tell the doctor that you visited a malarial area and suggest that you be tested for the disease.
Energy workers who travel to Africa are often reminded by their employers that the most dangerous time regarding malaria is not while they are working, but when they leave. Workers who are looking forward to returning home sometimes drop their guard, so when symptoms appear, they don’t associate them with malaria.
Gastrointestinal health complaints are common for those returning from working abroad in countries such as Egypt and India. Bacteria and parasites are the main cause of such tummy upsets.
When treating patients returning from working abroad, GPs and other health professionals should complete a full medical history, including international travel. Unfortunately, the question of travel is not always included, so it is always important for the patient to mention this – a detailed travel history will often indicate the diagnosis.
Key information to give your GP includes: any symptoms on your return; country where you were working, including the particular area; how long you were there for; was it a rural or urban area; type of accommodation; pre-travel vaccinations and any advice given; illness among colleagues, and history of unprotected sexual activity while abroad.
The spread of swine flu has been all over the news, but there are also more unusual illnesses that the unsuspecting traveller might return with, such as schistosomiasis (bilharzia), which is a urinary or bowel infection caused by certain species of parasitic worms or flukes.
Bilharzia can be acquired from wading or swimming in lakes, rivers or streams in areas of the world where the infection is endemic, and in particular in Africa, Brazil, southern China and the Philippines.
Initial contact with the parasites can cause an itchy, bumpy rash, and once the infection has been established, other symptoms such as fevers, cough, diarrhoea, weight loss, blood in urine, headaches and joint and muscle pain can occur.
If a traveller has been unwise enough to have unprotected sexual intercourse while away, a visit to the local GUM clinic, where various tests can be carried out, would be advisable.
Working abroad can be a great opportunity to see the world and learn more about other cultures and landscapes, but the oil and gas industry takes workers to countries across the globe where standards of hygiene and illnesses that can be spread can vary. Most workers who have taken advantage of pre-travel vaccinations and advice from a travel health specialist return home in fine health, but do bear in mind that post-travel symptoms could be caused by an illness picked up abroad.
Pauline Ganley is a travel health nurse at Abermed, which specialises in providing medical and occupational-health services to the international oil&gas industry. For more information, see www.abermed.com