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This month, Dr. Doueck interviews Dr. Robert Husney, an attending physician at Mount Sinai Brooklyn and NY Community Hospital, whose special interests and expertise include travel and infectious diseases. 

Travel and Infectious Disease - What You Need to Know

Infectious disease is a fascinating field of medicine that affects every organ system and every human being at some point in his life. The World Health Organization (WHO), defines an infectious disease as “any pathogenic microorganism that can be spread directly or indirectly from one person to another.” There are literally thousands of these potentially harmful agents – the MHO says there are approximately12,420 different diseases and health-related ailmentsout there – but thankfully, our immune system and modern medicine are very precise and very powerful in defending against them. Still, it is good to be aware of some of the more common diseases, especially when traveling.

What are the five most common infectious diseases in the world?

.1)    Hepatitis-Bis the most common infectious disease in the world, with nearly two billion people affected. This disease is characterized by an inflammation of the liver that leads to skin discoloration, nausea and fatigue. Untreated, it can lead to scarring of the liver or even liver cancer.

2)    Malariais a mosquito-borne disease seen in tropical and subtropical climates, and affects more than 500 million people annually. Prevention is based on medications, insect repellent and proper precautions to limit exposure.

3)    Hepatitis-Caffects about 180 million people worldwide. Untreated, it can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis. One of the great breakthroughs of our times is medications that can cure Hepatitis C with an over 95 percent cure rate.

4)    Dengueis carried by a specific type of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and is transmitted to approximately 50 million people each year. Dengue is most common in Africa and Asia, and, thankfully, occurs in only mild to moderate forms, which can cause high fever, severe headaches, and joint and muscle pain.

5)    Tuberculosis (TB)is, according to the WHO, the second-leading global killer among single infectious agents, behind AIDS.

Which infections should one be wary about while traveling to the Far East (China, Japan, Vietnam, etc.)?

Nearly everyone today traveling to the Far East should be vaccinated for Polio, Hepatitis A and typhoid fever. Other vaccines should be individualized and should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

How much do vaccines help in preventing disease?

Vaccines are designed to generate an immune response that will protect the vaccinated individual during future exposures to the disease. Vaccines are highly effective at preventing the acquisition and spread of certain infections. They are reliable and safe. In some cases, vaccines have been reported to be over 99.7 percent effective at preventing infection (such as measles).

What can you do to prevent infections before and while traveling?

While Americans have the luxury of clean water, some of the strictest vaccine programs in the world, and solid educational programs, we are by no way immune to infectious diseases. It is advisable to wash your hands regularly, get routine blood work to make sure your vaccine titers are appropriate, use insect repellant liberally, and get all the vaccines that your doctor and the CDC recommends. In so doing, you will substantially reduce and limit your risk of acquiring any infectious disease.

After returning from a trip abroad, what signs of infection should one look out for?

New rashes, fever, a sore throat, and change in skin color are all potential signs of a travel-associated infection. A proper physical exam and simple blood tests will, in most cases, help identify the cause of the condition so it can be treated properly.

Dr. Robert Husney is an attending physician at Mount Sinai Brooklyn and NY Community Hospital. He holds dual board certifications in infectious diseases and internal medicine. Additionally, he received his Master’s degree in health and service administration. He is presently a member of the Infectious Disease Society of America and the American College of Physicians. Dr. Husney is recognized by his peers as a talented and excellent diagnostician who takes his time to put together an appropriate treatment plan. His special interests and areas of expertise include travel medicine, vaccinations, Lyme disease and MRSA skin infections. He and his staff are fluent in multiple languages, including English, Spanish, Hebrew, French and Arabic. Dr. Husney is licensed in New York and New Jersey.

If you have any questions, or if you would like to make an appointment to discuss your condition,

Dr. Robert Husney can be reached at (718) 934-1234.