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NNSL photo/graphic

Bethan Williams gets vaccinated by public health nurse Lesley Singer. Williams visited one of the Yellowknife Health and Social Services travel clinics Tuesday to prepare for a trip to the Dominican Republic. - Alex Glancy/NNSL photo

Travel safe, not sick

Alex Glancy
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 10/04) - Few things sound better during a Yellowknife winter than a trip to a warmer climate. But then again, what could be worse than contracting a tropical disease?

The Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority is on your side. With its travel clinics, held three times a week, patients can get information and vaccinations they need for risky travels.

Bethan Williams paid a visit to the travel clinic on Tuesday to get shots and advice about her baseball trip to the Dominican Republic.

The country has been a glowing dot on the travel health radar since Nov. 24, when the first of 11 cases of malaria were reported among tourists.

Public health nurse Lesley Singer said the Dominican Republic is the only location currently suffering the kind of specific outbreak tourists should be concerned about, but exotic destinations like India always require a number of vaccinations.

"India has a huge amount of malaria everywhere in every city," said Singer. "It also has the highest rate of rabies in the world."

Fortunately for Williams, the city she's travelling to is malaria-free, but Singer still cautioned her to be careful and use lots of bug spray. Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, as is dengue fever, which recently showed up in Hawaii for the first time.

Singer recommends, almost demands, high levels of Deet in the spray.

"Up here it's fine trying all the fancy things, but Deet, whether you like it or not, has a phenomenal health record," she said.

Preparing for the trip

The health requirements for travelling can be a handful, which is where the travel clinics come in.

As YHSSA public health manager Laurie Vallillee explained, the three travel nurses work constantly to stay current and remind their clients of all the necessary precautions, and to make special allowances for age and activities.

Williams, for instance, was given a tetanus booster because she may scrape herself in one of her baseball games. She was also warned not to wash fruit in local water or use ice cubes made from it. Singer said she shouldn't even use it to brush her teeth.

Williams knew all about that. The last time she was in Mexico, she said three friends got crippling diarrhea.

Go early

The key thing to remember, said Singer and Vallillee, is to come in for vaccinations eight to 12 weeks before you leave. Shots need time to take effect and you may need several of them.

"If they come in at the last minute for a short holiday, with something like typhoid there's really no point in getting the vaccine," said Singer. "It wouldn't kick in until they got back."