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QLD Schoolies flirting with health hazards offshore

November 11th, 2013

Media Release 12 Nov 2013

Scores of Queensland teenagers celebrating ‘Schoolies Week’ (November 16-23) offshore are oblivious to potentially fatal health hazards, according to leading travel health pioneer, Dr Deb Mills.

The Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) estimates 48,500 students will graduate from Queensland high schools this year, many of whom will celebrate the milestone at the new Schoolies hotspots of Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Fiji and Vanuatu.


“The transition from student to school-leaver represents an important ‘rite of passage’ for young Queenslanders,” said Dr Deb, travel doctor and spokesperson for the Travel Medicine Alliance, Brisbane.


“But what’s concerning is their naivety to many health risks posed by increasingly popular overseas party destinations.

“While schools and families often educate school-leavers about the dangers of sex, drugs and alcohol, the basics of overseas pre-travel health preparation – carrying a medical kit and having up-to-date travel vaccinations – are often overlooked,” Dr Deb said.

Some of the potentially life-threatening diseases school-leavers may be exposed to while partying in Bali, Thailand and Fiji this month include rabies, hepatitis A, meningococcal disease, measles, gastrointestinal infections, malaria and dengue.


Dr Deb is urging Queensland Schoolies heading overseas to visit a travel doctor or their local GP now for a health check and to learn about ways to protect against infectious diseases, including vaccination.


“Many school-leavers mistakenly think because they have completed their routine childhood vaccines they are protected against various vaccine-preventable diseases. Unfortunately, routine vaccines do not provide sufficient protection for overseas travel,” Dr Mills said.


“It’s important to have the necessary vaccines and remember that some vaccines need to be administered ahead of time to provide effective protection.”

According to Dr Deb, the need for hepatitis vaccine coverage may be a little confusing, as there are different strains of hepatitis.


“Hepatitis B protection is part of the routine vaccine schedule, but overseas travellers are also at risk of hepatitis A, which is not a routine vaccine.


“Hepatitis A can be contracted from contaminated food, or via contact with surfaces such as doorknobs and money,” said Dr Deb.


“Schoolies who contract hepatitis A may find it very challenging to start university on time. Having one hepatitis A vaccine covers you for your trip.”


The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) recently advised school-leavers planning to party offshore to ‘drink responsibly, look after your mates, don’t break the law, don’t carry or consume any drugs, don’t go swimming when drunk or stoned, and to take out travel insurance.’ The Department also warned Schoolies, that should they get into trouble overseas, Australian diplomats cannot bail them out.1


“Accessing medical care can also prove highly expensive overseas and the Australian Government does not cover overseas medical expenses or evacuation costs,” Dr Deb said.


“The goal is to travel and party safely. However many school-leavers who are planning to let their hair down during Schoolies do not seek pre-travel preventative health advice and may be unaware of the health risks and protection offered by immunisation,” said Dr Deb.


A recent study into the travel risk behaviours and uptake of pre-travel health preventions by University of New South Wales studentsfound almost 70 per cent of the 2,000 survey respondents had not sought any pre-travel health advice before heading overseas.2


“The study authors reported an overall low risk perception of travel threats and a low level of concern for these threats,” Dr Deb said.


The study highlighted the need to educate students about the unexpected hazards associated with travel and to improve preventative health-seeking behaviours and uptake of precautionary health measures.


Sunscreen and travel insurance were the most common health precautions taken by student respondents, while anti-malarial medications and vaccines rated among the lowest health precautions.


Engineering student, Brittany Fowler, 19, Brisbane, opted for Mana Island, Fiji for her Schoolies destination last year, travelling with a circle of friends.


While the company that organised the trip recommended seeking travel health advice a month before departure, for Brittany and most of her peers, health risks were not a discussion point.


“I know there was a vaccination I had to have by a certain time before travelling to Fiji.


“If I hadn’t been prompted, I would never have considered visiting my doctor to get vaccinated before flying to Fiji,” Brittany said.


“I travel a fair bit with family and visiting a doctor before heading overseas never crosses my mind. I wash my hands more as a precaution overseas, but do nothing more than that.”


People who travel overseas have up to a one-in-two (50 per cent) chance of experiencing a travel-related illness.3 Fortunately there are ways to help protect against many travel-related infectious diseases, particularly in tropical regions.


A pre-travel doctor visit includes a discussion of immunisations, prophylactic medications (such as antimalarial drugs), and specific health advice for preventing and treating travellers’ diarrhoea and other illnesses the traveller may experience.


Schoolies who have chronic health issues or take medications may also need to coordinate pre-travel care with their regular doctors.


According to Dr Deb, ‘preparation’ is key to travelling well. Follow her three simple tips for travelling and partying safely offshore:

Have your shots;

  1. Have your shots;
  2. Pack a medical kit; and
  3. Learn about the local hazards and how to avoid them, to have a good time.


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