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Travel to Beijing Olympics Fraught with Potential Health Risks

MU international travel expert has advice for those visiting China

Aug. 7, 2008

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, (573) 882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As the torch is lit for opening ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a University of Missouri international travel expert advises visitors to be careful behind the scenes. Visitors to the Olympics face potential problems with respiratory infections, injuries and animal bites. Although it is never too late to receive necessary vaccinations, it is important to be careful during the trip and consider seeing a doctor after returning to the United States.

            “In all of Southeast Asia, travelers coming back to the United States with medical complaints   typically have either experienced a viral syndrome, fever, respiratory infection, animal bites or scratches, or diarrhea,” said Deborah Kaplan, director of MU’s Travel Connections – a service provided by the School of Health Professions. “Results from a recent study, completed during a 10-year period showed that people who traveled, especially to Beijing, were commonly afflicted with respiratory infections and animal bites.”

             The trouble with animal bites or scratches, according to Kaplan, is that China only recently adopted rabies policies for pet owners, but not soon enough to have helpful effects prior to the Olympics.

             “In the United States, in 2006, there were three cases of human rabies, two from bats and one from a dog bite in the Philippines,” Kaplan said. “In the same year, there were more than 3,000 human deaths from rabies in China alone. In China, health professionals use a rabies immune globulin that is not approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Anyone bit by a rabid animal needs more than just a vaccine; they need immune globulin to protect them during the window of time before the vaccine take effect.”

             It is very important for visitors to China to practice good hand washing, brush teeth with bottled water, and do not eat food from street vendors, according to Kaplan. People who smoke or have underlying respiratory ailments are at an increased risk for respiratory infections.

             After returning from China, visitors should see their doctor if they are not feeling well, Kaplan suggests. If bitten or scratched by an animal, travelers should report the incident to a doctor, the health department or Travel Connections immediately.

             “Since the Olympic games last for several weeks, many people have not yet traveled to China,” Kaplan said. “It is never too late to take necessary precautions. Travelers to China need updated routine immunizations, Hepatitis A and Typhoid shots.”

              Kaplan said that the athletes face far less risk because their food will be handled in a much more controlled environment in the Olympic Village.  However, the pollution problems in Beijing could affect them as well.