Travel health: the other diseases to watch out for

COVID-19 may have dominated news cycles for the past 12 months, but it’s far from the only infectious disease that travellers need to take seriously.

Here are six other threats to your health (just in case you weren’t worried enough).

Yellow fever

Spread by mosquitos and found in parts of Africa, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease.

Symptoms: fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and jaundice (hence the “yellow”).

Risk to health: a small proportion of patients develop severe symptoms and approximately half of those die with seven to ten days.

Vaccine available: yes


Similarly spread by mosquitoes, malaria is mainly found in tropical regions including large parts of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and parts of the Middle East.

Symptoms: fever, feeling hot and shivery, vomiting, muscle pains and diarrhoea.

Risk to health: there were 229-million cases of malaria in 2019 and an estimated 409,000 deaths from the disease.

Vaccine available: coming soon.


Ebola is transmitted from wild animals to humans and spreads in the human population through direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids. Ebola fever in humans in mainly found in the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Uganda, but it may occur in other African countries.

Symptoms: fever, fatigue, muscle, pain, headache, and sore throat. As the disease progresses, this may be followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding

Risk to health: the disease has an average fatality rate of around 50 per cent.

Vaccine available: yes


Dogs account for 99 per cent of all transmissions to humans of rabies through bites or scratches, although any wild or domesticated animal can transmit the virus. Rabies is found throughout the world but mainly in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.

Symptoms: ‘furious rabies’ results in signs of hyperactivity, excitable behaviour, fear of water, and sometimes fear of drafts or fresh air. ‘Paralytic rabies’, meanwhile, (accounting for 20 per cent of all cases) involves muscle paralysis, leading to coma and then death.

Risk to health: once clinical symptoms appear, the fatality rate is close to 100 per cent.

Vaccine available: yes

Typhoid fever

Spread through contaminated food or water, typhoid fever (caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi) is the tummy bug you don’t want. Typhoid is generally found in countries with poor sanitation, including Asia (especially India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Middle East.

Symptoms: prolonged fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, abdominal pain, and constipation or diarrhoea. Some patients may have a rash.

Risk to health: an estimated 11-20 million people get sick from typhoid and 128,000 to 161,000 people die from it every year

Vaccine available: yes

Hepatitis A

A lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation are the main drivers behind hepatitis A, a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness. The disease is mainly found in low to middle-income countries around the world.

Symptoms: fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-coloured urine and jaundice.

Risk to health: rarely fatal, but can cause debilitating symptoms and can lead to fulminant hepatitis (acute liver failure) which is often fatal.

Vaccine available: yes

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Jack Davidson is a nine-year digital nomad who's made his home in such far-flung locations as Cambodia, East Timor, Colombia and Hungary. He writes on a variety of topics relating to travel, travel insurance and financial matters for globetrotters and occasional wanderers alike. Jack is also the host of battleface's podcast When It Hits The Fan.