I’m off monkeys at the moment. They have a nasty habit of biting people, which makes life very complicated for the poor traveller on the receiving end. And with more people going to monkey farms and temples overseas, these cases turn up quite often in my other job at a travel clinic. Unfortunately we have to treat all these bites as potential rabies, which means a long series of injections and quite a lot of expense. I used to think that people got themselves into trouble by feeding or teasing the animals, but these days the monkeys are so used to humans that they can bite anybody without warning. And since other animals, such as dogs, cats and bats, can also carry rabies, it seems a good idea to stay away from anything with teeth.
It’s an interesting job, trying to give travellers the best possible advice. The websites tend to give generic information for each country but customising that to the individual is the challenge and the art. Clearly the 18-year-old backpacking through Laos for four months is quite different from the mature couple staying in a flash hotel for a week.
Even in a common destination like Bali, the level of risk can be highly variable. It really pays to sit down with your doctor and consider all the options before you go.
We need to be aware of new diseases spreading throughout the world and old ones making a comeback. For instance, Papua New Guinea was declared free of polio in 1990 but in the last year it has reappeared and spread to the adjacent Indonesian province of West Papua. Prior to that only Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan had ongoing epidemics.
Zika has been active in some Pacific Islands although fortunately it is receding. However, there is still the need for pregnant women to consider the risks and for men to be aware that they can transmit the virus sexually for up to three months after travel.
Dengue fever is also causing massive epidemics at the moment in India and Sri Lanka, South East Asia, plus Central and South America – there are also some cases in the Pacific. Like so many of these diseases, it is mosquito-borne.
Discourage mozzies with an insect repellent with at least 30 percent DEET in it,be careful to reduce skin exposure in the evenings and wear light coloured clothing. In all these countries the people are friendly, but the mozzies definitely aren’t.