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Malaria, Typhoid Pose Biggest Threat to Travelers in Tropics

FRIDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Malaria and typhoid fever -- not the much-feared Ebola virus -- are the biggest health threats for travelers to tropical regions of the world, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 80,000 people in Australia, Europe, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and North America who sought medical care after traveling to the tropics between 1996 and 2011.

More than 3,600 (4.4 percent) of the patients had one of 13 life-threatening diseases. Thirteen of the patients died, including 10 with malaria, according to the study, which was published online Jan. 16 in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Malaria accounted for nearly 77 percent of the diagnoses, followed by fevers such as typhoid fever (18 percent) and leptospirosis (2.4 percent).

Malaria is caused by a parasite spread by the bite of infected female mosquitoes. Typhoid fever is contracted from contaminated food and water in areas with poor sanitation. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection caused by exposure to contaminated water.

Most of the malaria cases occurred in travelers to West Africa, while most of the typhoid fever cases were seen in people who traveled to the Indian subcontinent.

There were no cases of Ebola, Lassa fever or yellow fever among the patients included in the study.

"While diagnosis and treatment of malaria and typhoid fever and many other tropical diseases have improved greatly over the years, people still can die from them if they are not treated quickly after their symptoms begin," researcher Dr. Mogens Jensenius, of the University of Oslo in Norway, said in a journal news release.

"Doctors and nurses in Western countries need to be vigilant in considering these potentially life-threatening tropical infections in recently returned travelers with fevers, and identify and treat them quickly," he added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about travelers' health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, news release, Jan. 16, 2013

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