Head of Dubai’s Travellers Clinic speaks of how to minimise health risks while travelling
Fortunately, the UAE is exempt from some of world’s most threatening diseases. Polio has been eradicated, yellow fever has not gained foot on UAE ground and malaria has only been reported as imported cases.
“There is an increased awareness about health risks when travelling. We have seen great increase in the number of customers coming to our clinic. Compared to 2011 the number increased with 46 per cent,” said Fatma al Attar, who heads Dubai’s Travelers Clinic.
“Any person travelling to any country at any time should do a medical examination. Somebody can be in Dubai in the morning, and in China in the evening. We could spread infectious diseases very easily, if we do not control it. Our aim is to control infectious diseases as much as we can.”
When travelling to countries where yellow fever prevails, vaccination is a must. Moreover, when entering the UAE, certification of vaccination must be presented when having travelled to an affected area 14 days prior to coming to the UAE.
Yellow fever is a viral disease found in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas. It is transmitted through mosquitos. Although most patients recover from the virus, in some cases it reaches a toxic stage, which kills in 50 per cent of the cases.
“Yellow fever is the vaccination most provided by our clinic,” said Fatma. “Of our customers 64 per cent travel to Africa. Unless they are exempted from the vaccination, they must carry the yellow card, which shows that they have been vaccinated.
“Pregnant women are exempted, and some people with allergy of the vaccination. These people can still travel, but they need to take certain precautions.”
The second most provided vaccination by the clinic is preventive of meningitis. “When people travel to the KSA, they must vaccinate against this bacterium. This is especially important for pilgrims,” Fatma said.
Meningococcal disease, which is relatively unknown, has a high mortality rate. Cases of transmittance have occurred during hajj, when millions of people gather in a small area. The bacterium is contagious and can be transmitted though saliva, or close contact with an infected person.
“Twenty-four per cent of our customers travel for religious purposes. Although not all pilgrims go to Mecca, this forms the largest group. Especially people with a low immunity system are recommended to take precautions before gathering in such a crowd.”
Aside from the mandatory vaccination against meningitis, Fatma advises pilgrims to vaccinate against the common flu. For people with a low immunity system, such as the elderly, people with diabetes, or people with asthma, she advises vaccination against pneumonia.
Furthermore, extra precautions should be taken considering recent outbreaks of the Middle East Respiratory Sydrome (MERS) coronavirus, which is predominantly active in the KSA.
“Hygiene is very important. When you cough or sneeze, you should cover your mouth. Frequent hand washing is also advised,” said Fatma.
When people come to the Travelers Clinic, they do not just come to receive the vaccination required for their travel. “We carry out health risk assessments; pre- and post-travel.
“In these assessments we look at the destination, the purpose of the trip, the kind of area that will be visited, the duration of the stay, and the medical history of the person who is traveling. Based on all that information, we tailor the travel advice.”
Based on health assessment data, the major health concern among UAE travelers is diabetes. “Thirty-one per cent of our customers have diabetes. Cardiovascular comes in second and then comes lung disease with eight per cent,” said Fatma.
“We also look at disease outbreak within the UAE. What we see is that chickenpox is the most challenging outbreak today.”