June 23, 2018
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Maine records cases of tropical diseases, state warns parents ahead of February break

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

Parents jetting overseas with their kids for February vacation should take precautions against diseases including malaria and dengue fever, according to state health officials.

Both illnesses, borne by mosquitoes, have shown up in Maine over the last year, along with cases of hepatitis A and leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease found in tropical regions and southern Europe, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The cases were found in people who had recently traveled or moved to Maine from another country.

Families heading off to warmer climates, particularly Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean, should be on the lookout for travel-related diseases, said State Epidemiologist Dr. Stephen Sears.

“We’re not trying to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for travel,” he said. “We just want them to be reasonably cognizant of the risks.”

Hepatitis A, one of the most common travel infections, is transmitted by eating contaminated food or water and can spread from person to person, Sears said. It can be prevented with regular hand-washing and also a vaccine, which some kids have recently begun receiving as part of their routine immunizations, he said.

Malaria, found in more than 100 tropical and subtropical countries, can be avoided by taking medication before and during travel, according to the Maine CDC.

Preventing dengue fever and the skin sores and other unpleasant symptoms of leishmaniasis, however, means staying away from the mosquitoes and sand flies, respectively, that carry those illnesses.

Parents should monitor what their children are consuming and maintain good hygiene to ward off disease, especially in developing countries, Sears said.

Travelers who do get sick should inform their doctor of their recent travel, he said.

Most people fully recover from hepatitis A and dengue fever, and while leishmaniasis and malaria can be deadly, both diseases are highly treatable.

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