Women and men travelers tend to get different illnesses

  • World
  • Thursday, 25 Feb 2010

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - World travel can make anyone sick but men and women tend to suffer different illnesses with women more prone to stomach problems and men at higher risk of fevers and sexually transmitted diseases, Swiss researchers found.

A study of almost 59,000 international travellers by the University of Zurich found women were more likely than men to come down with bouts of diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems, colds, urinary tract infections and adverse reactions to medications, such as those taken to prevent malaria.

Men had higher risks of fever, including from infections transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks or other such "vectors," such as malaria, dengue and rickettsia.

Men were also more likely than women to be treated for mountain sickness, frostbite or sexually transmitted diseases.

Researcher Dr. Patricia Schlagenhauf said the findings, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, offer travellers and travel-medicine specialists a clearer idea of how to prepare for international trips.

For example female travellers should be especially sure to bring anti-diarrheal medication.

While all travellers need advice on preventing mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, the researchers said men may need to pay particular attention to preventive measures, like frequently reapplying insect repellent.

The findings were based on data from 44 travel-medicine clinics throughout the world, all of which are part of a surveillance network designed to track travel-related ills and injuries.

Schlagenhauf and her colleagues looked at records for 58,908 patients who visited those clinics between 1997 and 2007.

Of 29,643 women, one-quarter were treated for acute diarrhea, compared with 22 percent of men.

But when other factors were considered -- like the length and destination of the trip -- women were anywhere from 13 percent to 39 percent more likely than men to seek treatment for diarrhea or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, which include diarrhea, constipation and abdominal pain.

Just over 3 percent of men were treated for malaria, and roughly the same number sought treatment for dengue, which is also transmitted by mosquito.

That compared with rates of 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively, among women.

Overall, over 17 percent of men had some type of fever-inducing illness, versus 11 percent of women.

The exact reasons for the sex difference are not clear. One possibility, according to the researchers, is that men make "more attractive hosts" to mosquitoes because the insects are lured by sweat and excessive sweating also washes off insect repellent.

As for gastrointestinal ills, women may either be more susceptible to them, or they may be more likely than men to seek treatment for them, according to Schlagenhauf's team.

Just over 1 percent of men visited a travel clinic for a sexually transmitted disease, with men being one-third more likely than women to do so. The researchers said past research has shown that men are more likely than women to have sex with someone they meet overseas.

"Safe sex advice is a missing component in most pretravel practices and our study suggests that male travelers, in particular, would benefit from greater preventive efforts," said the researchers.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith)

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