Dog Bites Olympian? CDC Offers Tips for Beijing-Bound Travelers

Beijing–bound Olympic travelers should worry less about exotic diseases, and instead focus on preventing more mundane health problems like respiratory illness and dog bites, that's according to a new study by experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network which found that during the past 10 years dog bites were actually one of the more common health problems travelers face when visiting China. Other common ailments were respiratory infections, skin problems, injuries, and diarrhea.

With an estimated 600,000 foreign visitors and athletes and as many as 2 million Chinese attendees expected at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing in August, the study provides key information that can help people plan their visits and protect their health.

The paper, published online on June 26, 2008, in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, used 1998-2007 data gathered by the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network and analyzed by GeoSentinel and CDC experts to assess illnesses among the 2,500 travelers to China that were in the database. The GeoSentinel Network was founded by the CDC and the International Society of Travel Medicine and is made up of 41 travel medicine clinics worldwide that provide traveler care and track travel-related health data.

"Many international travelers worry about exotic diseases. They probably don't think about injuries or dog bites, but the study found that travelers to China sought treatment for these ailments more often,” said Dr. Nina Marano, chief of the CDC's Travelers' Health and Animal Importation Branch. "Travelers need to be cautious about dog bites, as China has the second highest rate of human rabies cases in the world."

Respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and bronchitis, were the most common diagnoses for travelers seeking medical care while in China, and the primary cause of hospitalization for travelers in China. Acute diarrhea and dog bites were the most frequent ailments for travelers receiving post-travel medical care. Travelers also complained of injuries like sprains and strains. Rates of tropical and parasitic disease were low. There were no reported cases of malaria or dengue fever among travelers in this study.

"We hope travelers take this information and use it to prepare themselves for a healthy trip," Dr. Marano said. "Using common sense while in Beijing can also help keep you healthy. Wash your hands, watch your step, and don't pet stray dogs."

CDC says that travelers can help reduce their risk of becoming ill or injured by taking the following precautions:

  • Visit a travel medicine clinic four to six weeks prior to leaving to get travel advice.
  • Ensure all vaccinations are up-to-date.
  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizers frequently to help prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrheal illness.
  • Avoid all animals while in China. If bitten, wash all bite wounds promptly and seek reliable medical care immediately.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes and pay special attention when crossing the street and boarding public transportation to minimize injury risk.
  • Eat only fully cooked food that is served hot or fruits and vegetables you can wash and peel yourself to decrease the risk of diarrhea.

For more CDC recommendations, visit wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentOlympics2008.aspx. For general recommendations for travel to China, go to wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinationChina.aspx.

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