Have I contracted an infection abroad?

Paul Wheatley Paul Wheatley Pathology Manager at Nuffield Health Exeter, Plymouth & Taunton Hospitals
It can be difficult to spot the signs of disease or infection after travel. Here’s how a quick blood test can help.

The big wide world is full of things that want to invade and infect your body, and you’re especially vulnerable to these organisms when you travel.

Travel risks

In foreign countries, you can be exposed to a host of diseases that you have no immune defence against, especially in areas with poor sanitation and tropical regions where mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects are endemic.

You’ve got:

  • Malaria and Schistosomiasis in Asia, South America and Africa;
  • Leishmaniasis in South and Central America, Asia, Africa and Southern Europe;
  • Trypanosomiasis in Africa and South America where it is known as Chagas Disease;

and the list goes on.

You should always be aware of the prevalence of diseases in the places you plan to travel to and immunise against them were possible.

How do I know if I’ve picked up a tropical disease?

If you do pick up an infection abroad, you may not even realise it until much later. Sometimes contracting these diseases results in no or mild, flu-like symptoms. Travellers think they’ll simply get over it.

But a study by the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London found that 35% of travellers with no symptoms were actually carrying a parasitic disease.

The risk is the damage these diseases do to your body over time, when they’re not detected. Chaga’s disease, for example, can cause heart failure as much as a decade after contracting it.

Filariasis blocks your lymphatic system. Over the years this can lead to disfigurement as legs, feet and even testicles swell to an enormous size.

Then, of course, there’s Zika. Which may not cause you much physical trouble but has been connected to birth defects.

And it’s not just parasites - bacterial and viral infections such as Hepatitis C may have barely noticeable symptoms at first but can cause liver disease when allowed to persist.

How post-travel blood testing works

If you’ve been abroad and felt a little under the weather at any point during your trip, even for just a few days, it’s worth notifying your GP, or booking a post-travel screen directly.

The screening process will analyse your blood for antibodies left behind by infections you could have contracted. Post-travel screens at Nuffield Health include a Full Blood Count, Liver and Kidney Function tests, as well as a range of key health indicators. Our enhanced post-travel screen also includes Hepatitis A, B and C screening.

Even if you don’t notice anything is wrong, a simple blood test can pick up these conditions so you can get treatment to protect you and your family from complications in the future.

Last updated Friday 21 July 2017

First published on Wednesday 19 July 2017