Health in Phuket - common diseases and viruses

Phuket receives a clean bill of health

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Immunisations: Before travelling to Phuket, vaccinations for hepatitis A & B, typhoid and polio, plus boosters for tetanus-diphtheria and measles are recommended. Check with your local health clinic at least a month before departure.

Japanese Encephalitis: This viral infection, spread by mosquitoes, is very occasionally seen in Phuket. JE affects the central nervous system and can cause severe complications and death. In the majority of cases, only mild symptoms or no symptoms appear, but for more severe infections, it starts as a flu-like illness, with fever, chills, tiredness, headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion and agitation, which can progress to a serious infection of the brain and death. There is a vaccine available, but it is not recommended if your travels are limited to Phuket.

Leptospirosis: Very rarely, there are cases of leptospirosis in Phuket during the rainy season. The disease is spread through an organism found in rat urine, which contaminates water sources. If this water comes into contact with a cut or wounds on one’s leg, say, there is a risk of infection.

This leads to fever, puffy eyes and severe muscle pain, especially in the lower legs. More serious complications include kidney failure and death. The condition is curable so make sure you go straight to a hospital if you suspect a case of Leptospirosis in Phuket.

Malaria: There are instances of this mosquito-borne disease in Phuket, though the vast majority of cases are seen in agricultural workers. Beach resort areas are considered malaria-free. The malarial strains here are believed to be resistant to preventative drugs such as Larium, so anti-malarial drugs are not recommended if your travels are confined to the island. Prevention is the best way to go - use DEET-based repellents and cover up with long pants and light jackets in the evenings.

Marine life: Bites and stings from sea creatures are not uncommon for swimmers and snorkellers, especially in the dry season when the waters are calm. While these may be painful, serious injury or death resulting from contact with local marine life is extremely rare. Jellyfish and sea urchin stings are the most common. Both can be treated on the spot with any acidic fluid - vinegar, lime juice or even urine are effective.

The sharp spines of sea urchins can cut through the skin and break off when touched. They should be removed carefully with tweezers. If the spines are deeply imbedded, use a stone or another blunt object to break up the spines, then soak the area in hot water for 30-90 minutes to neutralize the venom.

If stung by stonefish, stingrays or other stinging fish, soak the affected area in hot water, though not hot enough to scald the skin. A tetanus booster might also be a good idea. For cone fish and sea snake bites, apply a constrictive bandage over the bite and completely immobilize the limb. Seek medical attention immediately, since cone fish venom can significantly decrease respiration.

Pesticides: These are still regrettably in widespread use by farmers, though efforts have been made to curb this practice. It is also common for produce to be treated with dyes to improve its appearance. Sales of organic vegetables are on the rise, however, and the better restaurants will try to source chemical-free products.

Rabies: This is very rare in Phuket, but it may be wise to take the rabies vaccine before coming to Thailand, especially if you will travel elsewhere in the country. The disease is carried in the animal’s saliva, so if you are bitten by a dog, or even licked on a wound, go to a hospital for treatment.

Scrub Typhus: is spread when infected mites bite the skin. Symptoms of the disease include headache, runny nose, cough, nausea, high fever and chills, vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea and aching muscles. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection.

Swine flu (H1N1): despite all the panic, H1N1 has killed just 6,000 people worldwide so far (compared with an average of 24,000 killed by lightning in any year). There is as yet no vaccine against H1N1, but Tamiflu, which can be bought in Thailand, is an effective treatment. Thailand was one of the countries to report significant fatalities initially, but also responded very effectively with a campaign of information and education on hygiene. However, this world epidemic remains a high alert risk, so travellers are advised to consult the WHO updates online. .

Venereal disease: Non-specific urethritis (NSU) is the most widespread sexually transmitted disease in Phuket, while syphilis, herpes and gonorrhoea are also common among sex workers and their clients. Always use condoms when playing around.

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