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Imagine this: After a long (somewhat excruciating) Canadian winter you book a well-deserved holiday. You pack your bags, jump on a plane with the family and touch down into paradise. You walk off the plane to feel something you have been longing for, nay, dreaming for – heat. It's sweltering, but you don't care. This is what you have been waiting for all year.
After two days in the hotel, you begin to feel like you have the flu.
'Never mind, it will go away,' you convince yourself.
Besides, you have an important afternoon meeting with the beach.
The next day, you have a headache – and the day after that, a fever.
Suddenly, your dream vacation is turning into a visit to the local clinic or hospital – something you had never anticipated.
You ask yourself, am I covered for this? Do I have the right vaccinations? Am I receiving the appropriate care? Do I need to get back to Canada for treatment?
Believe it or not, thousands of Canadians find themselves in this predicament every year.
Get the facts before traveling abroad
Dr. Jay Keystone, Senior Staff physician at the Tropical Disease Unit, Toronto General, believes Canadians should consult with a health professional before traveling anywhere outside North America.
"Many Canadians don't realize that traveling can be risky to their health," said Keystone. "You might think that you are going to a low risk area like the Caribbean, when actually there could be health risks for you and your family."
For example, this year Keystone found many Canadians contracted Dengue fever while traveling in the tropics. Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. It's transmitted by mosquitos and will definitely ruin a vacation.
To help patients avoid getting sick, Keystone and his team research the specific area patients are traveling to and assess the risks. Then he administers the necessary vaccinations. But his advice extends beyond that.
Keystone lists top travel risks and how to protect yourself
"The number one cause of death for traveling Canadians is motor vehicle accidents," said Keystone. "So we talk about how to avoid them. We also discuss risks with food, animal bites, exposure to sun and alcohol safety."
Keystone's team also works with Canadians who have returned home with an illness from their travels. They are seen in the Tropical Disease Unit at Toronto General Hospital.
"The highest frequency of serious illness, such as malaria and typhoid fever, occur in new Canadians who travel back home to visit their families," said Keystone. "They don't have the immunity to local infections anymore, but feel that they don't need to take any extra precautions because they grew up in the country. This couldn't be further from the truth."
For more information on the Tropical Disease Unit, click here.