RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Men and women may want to take different precautions when traveling abroad, suggests a new study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Researchers found that men are much more likely to get sick from the bites of mosquitoes, ticks, lice, and fleas, while women are more likely to get hit with diarrhea.
THE DETAILS: Researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland analyzed travel data from nearly 60,000 international travelers. They discovered that the men were more commonly treated for malaria, dengue fever, rickettsia, and mosquito- or tick-borne illnesses, as well as for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) contracted from sex abroad. However, the women were significantly more likely to be treated for diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome; a quarter of the women suffered acute attacks of diarrhea.
To explain these differences, the researchers hypothesize that women may simply be more open than men to seeking treatment for diarrhea, and men may be more prone to bug bites because of excessive sweating, which washes off insect repellent and attracts insects. But there may be other forces at play, as well.
WHAT IT MEANS: The study points to some tendencies, but women should certainly still protect themselves from STDs, mosquitoes, and ticks. And men need to remain vigilant about contaminated drinking water and other causes of diarrhea.
Regardless of your gender, these travel health tips will help ensure that you’re happy and healthy on the plane ride home.
• Know what you're up against. Always check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Travelers' Health website to learn about destinations, diseases related to travel, recommended vaccinations, and travel-medicine clinics here in the U.S. If you opt to use a clinic, it's best to make an appointment at least six weeks before you depart, as some vaccinations are given in a series. These can take several weeks to complete.
• Manage those mosquitoes. When traveling to such areas as Africa, Central and South America, and southern China, you’ll need to be especially wary of malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. In other areas, including the United States, West Nile virus is the bigger concern. While DEET-containing repellents do work, this harsh chemical comes with risks, including risks of birth defects and damage to your nervous system. Permethrin is a chemical treatment you apply to your clothing rather than your skin, but studies have found it makes its way into waterways and can cause pollution. But you don't need powerful chemicals to keep the little bloodsuckers off your skin. A Canadian study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the plant-oil-based product Bite Blocker All Natural repelled pests just as effectively as DEET. (Check out our natural bug repellent story to learn more.)
Read on to find out how to deal with ticks and other travel-related health issues.