Celebrating Schoolies need to take care in Southeast Asia

10 November 2011

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is advising school leavers planning to celebrate in Southeast Asian holiday spots to be mindful of the risks of contracting diseases from unsafe sex, and falling ill from eating or drinking contaminated food or water, being bitten by mosquitoes or being scratched or bitten by domestic/wild animals.

CDC Director Dr Vicki Krause said young people needed to be aware of the real risks and take proper precautions when travelling overseas.

"The purpose is to celebrate and have fun - not to end up with unwanted diseases that may have life-long consequences," Dr Krause said.

"We want all travellers, especially less experienced young people, to be informed of the risks so that they can take the necessary steps to avoid contracting a potentially serious infection.

"For example, traveller's diarrhoea occurs following eating contaminated food or water. Additionally diseases such as typhoid are also acquired that way."

To reduce the risk of getting diarrhoea overseas, travellers should only use bottled water to drink and brush their teeth, not put ice in their drinks and avoid uncooked food, including salads and fruit that you cannot peel.

"Insect borne illnesses are common in the Southeast Asian region year-around. The mosquito borne diseases malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis occur throughout the region," Dr Krause said.

The CDC recommends that travellers discuss malaria prevention medication with their GP if travelling to endemic areas, that they stay in mosquito-proof accommodation, and use insect repellents that contain DEET. When outside, cover up as much as possible with light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing and covered footwear.

"There is a risk of contracting rabies in Southeast Asia and travellers are strongly advised to avoid direct contact with dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals. If bitten or scratched, travellers should immediately wash the wound with soap and water and seek urgent medical attention for obtaining rabies vaccinations and immunoglobulin," Dr Krause said.

Dr Krause also warns travellers about excessive consumption of alcohol and the use of recreational drugs, which are highly illegal in Southeast Asian holiday spots although sometimes obtainable.

"Alcohol intoxication increases risk-taking behaviour and the consequent likelihood of serious injury, so we recommend travellers to be responsible if they do decide to drink," she said.

"Safe sex practices are often overlooked when traveling, and the disinhibiting effect of alcohol is again a factor. Be prepared for sexual encounters by having a supply of condoms.

"Many nearby countries have higher rates of HIV compared to Australia, particularly among sex workers. Travellers are also at an increased risk of contracting other sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea."

The CDC encourages travellers to plan well ahead by getting all the necessary vaccinations and taking out proper travel insurance before leaving. If they feel sick on return, see a doctor immediately and inform them honestly of places visited and activities undertaken.

"Remember that a medical consultation is always confidential, and it is important to give your doctor all the relevant information as early as possible," Dr Krause said.

For more information on travelling overseas or to register your personal and travel details before you go, visit the Federal Government's website at http://www.smartraveller.gov.au

Media Contact: Bridget Wild 89 992 818 or 0401 116 203