Health Risks When Traveling Abroad

Touring abroad, especially to areas with mainly third world countries, may hold some health problems that aren’t typical in developed countries. Therefore tourists need to be aware of these circumstances, in spite of having taken the suitable travel vaccinations. Asian countries are growing in reputation as travel destinations and many can pose substantial health risks for travelers. One of the risks is that vaccine may not always be obtainable for certain diseases. Indeed, world-class healthcare is not always readily available.

Types of Health Risks

There are numerous types of health risks in any country, not just Asia. The main focus for travelers, however, is infectious diseases. These might be widespread in a specific region, transported through fairly innocuous routes and for which one doesn’t have any natural immunity or appropriate immunization. Most significantly though, it is diseases which may have severe complications in just a short time period and be life-threatening. Treatments that exist for these diseases might not always be extremely efficient. It may also require constant hospitalization and professional care which may not be obtainable in these travel destinations or too expensive for a traveler. Prevention through vaccination when obtainable, prophylactic medication and conservative measures are thus the primary concern for a traveler.

There are numerous bacterial forms of gastroenteritis and newly found multi-drug resistant species like the NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1) superbug which might be seen more often in Asia. These are major health risks but not particularly for travelers. Most are common pathogens even in developed nations which have become resistant against certain drugs.

Caution as a traveler in restricting water intake to trustworthy brands of bottled brand, eating only in safe food institutions and avoiding contact with unmonitored water sources will usually be adequate to prevent these diseases. Good individual hygiene is the most effective precautionary measure. In most cases these diseases are spread through polluted food and water and are highly unlikely to be caught through contact with animals, mosquito or inset bites or transmitted via droplet spread via coughing or sneezing.

Sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis and genital herpes are found all over the world and are not usually more common in Asia. It has therefore not been included as significant health risks for travelers. However, you would do well to take your own precautions!


The risks in the following regions don’t differ significantly. However, some kinds of diseases may be more prevalent than others in specific countries.

South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka)
A few of the major infectious health hazards for travelers to this region include malaria, dengue fever, filariasis, leishmaniasis, Japanese encephalitis, leptospirosis, polio, measles, avian influenza (H5N1) and rabies.

Southeast Asia (Burma, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei)
A few of the major infectious health hazards for travelers to this region include malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, plague, avian influenza (H5N1), schistosomiasis, leptospirosis, measles and polio. Rabies is a current issue in Bali.

East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan)
A few of the major infectious health hazards for travelers to this region include malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, filariasis, Japanese encephalitis, leishmaniasis, plague, tickborne encephalitis, avian influenza (H5N1), measles, schistosomiasis (Schistosoma japonicum), leptospirosis and rabies.


Avian Flu
Avian flu, often called bird flu, is caused by the H5N1 virus. It is hardly ever seen in humans but is very lethal. Only half of the people infected with the bird flu virus survive the disease. It is present in both wild birds and can appear in domestic birds. The virus is spread by making contact with the bird’s feces, saliva or other secretions. This often occur in open air markets where these birds are held in crowded and unclean conditions. Bird flu can’t be caught through eating the meat of these animals.

Dengue Fever
Dengue fever is a viral disease caused due to one of four serotypes of a flavivirus which is distributed by mosquitoes similar to chikungunya. The main vector is the Aedes aegypti mosquito. It might lead to severe difficulties such as dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome which are life-threatening. Dengue fever is more frequent in urban and semi-urban areas. Dengue hemorrhagic fever is among the main reasons for death among children in heavy risk areas.

Rabies is an infectious disease caused due to the Lyssavirus which is spread through animals. The virus may enter into the human host via the saliva of an infected animal, usually due to a bite. Rabies is found all over the world and is typically transmitted through dog and bat bites even though may other animals can also be infected. Vaccination of animals against rabies continues to be an efficient approach to decrease the transmission but there’s still a heavy risk with stray animals. Poor animal control and limited immunization plans in developing nations may place a person in danger.

This article is a slightly edited version from the article of the same name on W3Clinic is an online, healthcare information center produced by a team of Web professionals and medical experts, with the aim of empowering people to manage their health. It provides easy-to-read, in-depth, authoritative medical information for consumers via its user-friendly and interactive website.
Addendum by the site administrator: All the above can seem pretty scary when you read it. However, remember that prevention is the better part of cure in most instances. Get all the recommended vaccines before departure, attend to your personal hygiene, watch what you eat (and who’s prepared it), wear insect repellant, watch where you go, avoid unnecessary risks and make sure you’re covered by medical insurance. Alternative therapies may be of some help sometimes, but the beasties listed above are best dealt with by conventional medicine for immunization and treatment. I lived for five years in Indonesia without serious illness, though throat/chest infections were frequent. So, don’t let the above article put you off traveling to Asia, as long as you’re careful.

Subscribe to our Newsletter