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Key illnesses to watch out for when traveling internationally

Stay healthy abroad

Story by Gregory P. Thomas

Traveling to different countries offers exciting opportunities to explore diverse cultures, landscapes and cuisines. However, it also exposes you to various health risks. Being aware of the common illnesses prevalent in your destination can help you take preventive measures and enjoy a safe trip. Here’s a rundown of some key illnesses to watch out for when traveling internationally. 


Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease common in many tropical and subtropical regions, especially in parts of Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. Symptoms include fever, chills and flu-like illness, and it can be fatal if not treated promptly. Prevention involves taking antimalarial medications, using mosquito repellents, sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets and wearing long sleeves and pants during peak mosquito-biting hours.

Traveler’s diarrhea

Often simply referred to as ‘Delhi belly’ or ‘Montezuma’s revenge,’ traveler’s diarrhea is the most common travel-related ailment. It is usually caused by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, nausea and frequent loose stools. To prevent it, avoid tap water, ice and raw or undercooked foods, especially in areas with poor sanitation.

Hepatitis A and B

These viral infections affect the liver and can be contracted through contaminated food and water (Hepatitis A) or through blood and bodily fluids (Hepatitis B). Symptoms include jaundice, mild fever and gastrointestinal issues. Vaccinations are available and recommended before traveling to regions with higher rates of hepatitis.

Yellow fever

Yellow fever is another mosquito-borne viral disease prevalent in parts of Africa and South America. It can range from mild to severe, causing fever, chills, severe hepatitis and hemorrhagic fever. Some countries require a yellow fever vaccination certificate for entry. Vaccination is the most effective prevention, along with mosquito bite prevention strategies.

Typhoid fever

Typhoid fever is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi, which is common in developing countries. It spreads through contaminated food and water and causes prolonged high fevers, weakness, stomach pains, headache and loss of appetite. Vaccination is recommended for travelers to South Asia and other areas with a high incidence of typhoid.

Dengue fever

Dengue is prevalent in more than 100 countries, especially in Southeast Asia, the Western Pacific and Central America. Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain and rash. There are no specific antiviral treatments for dengue; prevention focuses on mosquito control and avoiding mosquito bites.


This viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and is found mainly in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Indian and Pacific oceans. It causes an abrupt onset of fever, frequently accompanied by joint pain. The best preventive measures include using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using air conditioning or window/door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.

Zika virus

Though the outbreak has lessened, Zika virus remains a concern in many tropical areas. It is primarily spread by mosquitoes but also can be transmitted through sexual contact. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as it can cause severe birth defects. Avoiding mosquito bites is the primary prevention strategy.

World map and passport. Pre trip vaccination concept.

Required and recommended vaccinations

Traveler vaccination requirements can vary significantly from one country to another, based on local health risks and government policies. Before traveling, consult with a healthcare provider at least six weeks before your trip. Additionally, check the website of the embassy of the country you’re visiting or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the most current health guidelines and entry requirements. Here is a general list of common vaccinations that may be required or recommended for travel to various regions around the world. 

Africa Yellow fever: Required for entry into many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Hepatitis A and B: Highly recommended due to variable sanitary conditions. Typhoid: Recommended due to contaminated water sources. Meningococcal meningitis: Recommended, especially for travelers to the “meningitis belt” of sub-Saharan Africa during the dry season. Rabies: Considered for those likely to come into contact with animals.

Asia Japanese encephalitis: Recommended for rural travel in countries such as Vietnam, India and Thailand. Hepatitis A and B: Commonly recommended for most travelers. Typhoid: Recommended for travelers to South Asia, which has the highest risk. Rabies: Recommended for travelers spending a lot of time outdoors or in rural areas.

Central and South America Yellow fever: Required for entry into countries like Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Typhoid: Recommended due to risks associated with contaminated food and water. Hepatitis A: Recommended due to the prevalence of the virus in the region. Rabies: Recommended for those exploring remote areas.

The Caribbean Hepatitis A and B: Recommended, especially in areas with inadequate sanitation and healthcare. Typhoid: May be recommended for those traveling to smaller, rural islands.

Eastern Europe Hepatitis A and B: Recommended due to the presence of hepatitis in some areas. Tick-borne encephalitis: Recommended for those going to forested areas from spring to early autumn.

Middle East Hepatitis A and B: Commonly recommended due to sanitation and hygiene issues. Typhoid: Recommended for travelers, particularly those visiting rural areas. Meningococcal meningitis: Recommended for travelers to certain parts of Saudi Arabia during the Hajj pilgrimage.

Oceania  Hepatitis A and B: Generally recommended due to the presence of these viruses. Japanese encephalitis: Recommended for prolonged travel to certain parts of the region.

General recommendations Routine vaccinations: These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio and your yearly flu shot. Covid-19: Depending on the destination, proof of vaccination may be required for entry or to avoid extended quarantine.

Find the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s up-to-date vaccination requirements for every country here.

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