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July 11, 2006 > Summertime Safety at Home and Away

Summertime Safety at Home and Away

Physician Recommends Preventive Medicine, Education

by Washington Hospital

If you’re making plans to travel outside the United States this summer, a great first destination is your local family practice clinic or primary care physician’s office to discuss potentially life-saving vaccinations.

Ideally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should set up an appointment with a health-care provider four to six weeks before your trip because many vaccines take time to become effective in your body and some vaccines must be given in a series over a period of days or sometimes weeks.

Prevention is the best medicine

If it is less than four weeks before you leave, you should still see your doctor. It might not be too late to get your shots or medications and other information about how to protect against illness and injury while traveling, according to the CDC.

What are vaccinations before traveling important? It’s all about prevention, according to Dr. Steven Curran, Washington Hospital Medical Staff family practice physician and medical director of Washington Clinic/Warm Springs and Washington Clinic/Newark.

“For many illnesses associated with travel – Hepatitis A for example – no ‘treatment’ is available,” Dr. Curran says. “However, immunization may prevent the illness in the first place.”

Not only is receiving vaccinations before traveling good common sense, in some cases, it might be required by law for international travel. For instance, yellow fever vaccine is regulated by International Health Regulations, and only authorized providers can administer the vaccine. Washington Clinic/Warm Springs is an authorized provider of yellow fever vaccination. To make an appointment, call (510) 651-2371.

To find a complete list of authorized yellow fever vaccination clinics, visit the CDC’s Web site, and refer to the list of providers in its Yellow Fever Registry.

Be safe, be informed

“The best advice is to be prepared,” according to Dr. Curran. “Consult a physician familiar with travel medicine and check out the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site. Some vaccines may be a requirement before obtaining a visa,” to certain countries.

Some diseases that travelers should be immunized against may include hepatitis A, typhoid, yellow fever and meningitis, Dr. Curran says.

“And don’t forget to get boosters for tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella when appropriate,” he reminds.

Even if you’re traveling to your native country, immunizations may be necessary.

“Many people wrongly assume they are protected just because they were born in the country to which they are traveling,” Dr. Curran explains. “I strongly recommend testing, and if necessary, vaccinating prior to travel.”

It’s also a good idea to know how potentially dangerous or untreatable diseases in foreign countries are transmitted to better avoid them. According to Dr. Curran, contaminated food or water are likely sources of Hepatitis A and typhoid, and mosquitoes often carry diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

“Prepare ahead of time for travel so you can enjoy your vacation,” Dr. Curran says.

Be safe in your own back yard

Even if you’re not traveling out of the country this summer, there are plenty of summertime pests to avoid at home, especially when you’re spending more time outdoors.

Ah, nature. Hiking, walking with the kids on a nature trail, having picnics, wearing shorts – these things come with the warm, sunny weather. And so do ticks.

According to the American Academy of Emergency Physicians, worldwide, there are more than 850 tick species and 30 major tick-borne diseases. The United States has 82 species of ticks that collectively can cause nine major diseases, including Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Tick Paralysis, Tick-borne Relapsing Fever, Tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Colorado Tick Fever. Most of these diseases have symptoms similar to the flu, such as fever,
chills, headache, muscle ache, vomiting and fatigue.

There’s also Lyme Disease, one of the most well-known diseases transmitted by ticks, to consider, according to Dr. Curran.

“Cover up and check frequently in all areas for ticks,” he says. “While not all ticks carry disease, the greatest risk in California for Lyme Disease would come from ticks in the Sierra or North Woods/Fort Bragg area.”

Fight the bite!

Another of summer’s pests to avoid is the mosquito, especially with the emergence of West Nile Virus in California in recent years. If bitten by an infected mosquito, a healthy individual may never exhibit symptoms, although the CDC estimates that about 20 percent of people who become infected with WNV will develop West Nile fever. Symptoms include fever, headache, tiredness, and body aches, occasionally with a skin rash (on the trunk of the body) and swollen lymph glands. While the illness can be as short as a few days, even healthy people have reported being sick for several weeks.

Others, especially those in high risk categories – including children under the age of 2, adults over the age of 50 and those with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems – may be at risk for potentially life-threatening infection.

The symptoms of severe disease – also called neuroinvasive disease, such as West Nile encephalitis or meningitis or West Nile poliomyelitis – include headache, high fever, neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, and paralysis, and the CDC estimates that approximately 1 in 150 persons infected with the West Nile virus will develop a more severe form of disease.

It is important to remember that West Nile Virus cannot be “cured” so it’s best to follow the old adage “Better safe than sorry” by avoiding mosquito bites.

Some good ways to avoid mosquito bites at home, according to Dr. Curran, include wearing long sleeves and pants, wearing insect repellant with DEET when outdoors and trying to avoid outdoor activities near dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are the most active. It’s also a good idea to remove any standing water from your property and make sure the screens in your house are intact and tightly sealed.

To find out more about West Nile Virus, visit the Washington Hospital Web site at
and click on “For Our Community,” then select “West Nile Virus” from the drop-down menu or visit and search for West Nile Virus.

To learn more about services available at Washington Hospital’s primary care clinics located in Newark, Warm Springs, Fremont and Union City, visit, click on “Our Facilities,” and select “Washington Hospital Clinics.”

Washington Clinic/Newark and Washington Clinic/Warm Springs both offer travel immunizations and counseling. To make an appointment, call (510) 797-7535 for the Newark clinic and (510) 651-2371 or (408) 946-6443 for the Warm Springs clinic.

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