February 25, 2010

Travel-Related Health Risks Different For Men And Women

Women and men contract different types of illnesses when traveling around the world, according to a new study.

Researchers found that of almost 59,000 international travelers participating in the study, women proved to be more likely to suffer from diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues, colds, urinary tract infections and have bad reactions to medications, including those taken to prevent malaria.

On the other hand, men were more likely to have fevers, including from infections from mosquitoes, ticks or other such "vectors," such as malaria, dengue and rickettsia. They were also more likely to be treated for mountain sickness, frostbite or sexually transmitted diseases, reported Reuters.

Researchers, led by Dr. Patricia Schlagenhauf of the University of Zurich in Switzerland, said the findings provide a better understanding how travelers and travel-medicine specialists should prepare for international trips.

They wrote that women should be sure to take anti-diarrhea medication along with them. Both genders should be informed about the prevention of mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, but the researchers said that men should probably be especially careful to be vigilant about applying insect repellent frequently.

The study was based on data from 44 travel-medicine clinics throughout the world that are all involved in a surveillance network created to track illnesses and injuries often suffered while traveling.
The researchers analyzed records for 58,908 patients who visited those clinics between 1997 and 2007.

One-quarter of the 29,643 women were treated for acute diarrhea, whereas only 22 percent of men experienced such issues. When other factors were taken into account, such as the duration and destination of the trip, women were still 13-39 percent more likely than men to seek treatment for diarrhea or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which include diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain.

Just over 3 percent of men were treated for malaria, and about the same number were treated for dengue, another mosquito transmitted sickness. Only 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent of the women were treated for these illnesses.

When it came to fevers, just over 17 percent of men had a fever-inducing illness, compared to 11 percent of women.

The researchers were unable to conclude the reason behind the difference between the genders, but they believe one possibility may be that men are "more attractive hosts" for mosquitoes because the insects are attracted to excess sweat, which washes off insect repellant and renders it less effective.

The team said that when it comes to gastrointestinal conditions, women may either be more susceptible to them, or they may be more likely to seek treatment for them than men.

Just over 1 percent of men went to a travel clinic for a sexually transmitted disease, with men being one-third more likely than women to do so.

Schlagenhauf and her colleagues note that previous research has found that men are more likely to engage in sexual activity with someone they meet overseas than women.

The researchers wrote, "Safe sex advice is a missing component in most pre-travel practices, and our study suggests that male travelers, in particular, would benefit from greater preventive efforts."

The report can be found in the current issue of the journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases.


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