International business travelers and expatriates (ex-pats) are subject to a myriad of potential health and safety threats while they are outside the country. These include manmade and natural disasters, violent crime, accidents, political unrest, environmental exposures, contaminated food and water, animal bites and envenomations, and infectious diseases. One category of infectious disease threats that are of particular concern are those that are transmitted by mosquitoes. Mosquito-borne illnesses have always posed a risk; however, the explosive emergence of the Zika virus within the last year has heightened awareness about this disease, and raised consciousness about other serious illnesses that can be transmitted by the bite of a mosquito.
The risk of contracting a mosquito-borne illness will of course vary based on the specific travel itinerary, length of time in-country, season of the year, underlying health of the traveler or ex-pat, and the effectiveness of precautions that are taken to avoid or minimize mosquito bites. For those mosquito-borne illnesses for which a vaccine is available, it is essential that employees are properly immunized. Unfortunately, many mosquito-borne illnesses are not vaccine-preventable, although research to develop new vaccines for these infectious diseases is on-going.
Occupational and Environmental Physicians play an important role in advising business travelers and ex-pats regarding pre-travel medical clearance, recommended and/or required immunizations, malaria prophylaxis, medical care for infectious diseases while in-country, and post-travel medical screening. Although it would be impractical to discuss every potential mosquito-borne infectious disease that could potentially affect business travelers and ex-pats, there are seven, and with the recent addition of Zika virus, there are now a total of eight that are worthy of discussion. These include:
West Nile Virus