Research in Cairns has found that backpackers are largely unaware of the dangers and symptoms of dengue fever and are at risk of unknowingly spreading the virus.
Two visiting Danish medical students, Bálint Vajta and Mette Holberg from Aarhus University, interviewed 50 backpackers, hostel staff and pharmacists as part of the month-long study, working in collaboration with James Cook University.
“We found that most backpackers knew very little, if anything, about dengue fever,” Mr Vajta said. “We also found that if they became sick they were highly likely to ‘soldier on’ and continue with their holiday, rather than see a doctor.”
The project was a part of a larger JCU research effort investigating ways to decrease the frequency and magnitude of dengue epidemics in northern Queensland.
“Earlier studies have shown that travellers visiting or returning to Australia from dengue endemic areas were the primary introduction point for most dengue outbreaks,” the Director of Research at JCU’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition, Associate Professor Jane Mills, said.
“As young travellers themselves, Bálint and Mette brought to the research important insight into this particular segment of the travelling population.”
“Backpackers often have limited time, resources and money,” Mr Vajta said. “We hoped that our study would show how young travellers react to health issues in those circumstances.
“We focused on their thoughts and decision-making processes when deciding whether to seek medical care.”
The researchers found that backpackers’ lack of knowledge of the symptoms and significance of dengue fever meant they took longer to decide to see a doctor.
“The problem here is that, if they have dengue, the delay extends the window in which an Aedes aegypti mosquito might bite them and pass the virus on, therefore increasing the risk of a local epidemic,” infectious diseases specialist Professor John McBride said.
Ms Holberg said they found local media messages about dengue did not reach backpackers.
“We would advise an increased awareness campaign aimed specifically at travellers,” she said. “Having information available at hostels and travel agencies would be good ways to get this information to backpackers.”
Issued August 16, 2013
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