Trouble in paradise

Trouble in paradise

Once again, Bali has been in the news for the wrong reasons. A favoured holiday destination for so many Australians, Bali has now added a sinister new hazard to its growing list of health risks with notification of HIV infection contracted as a result of a holiday visit to a tattoo artist. Australian public health physicians have urged anyone who has recently got a tattoo while on holiday in Bali to have their HIV status checked: trouble in paradise.

The list of recently documented infection risks associated with travel to Bali and neighbouring Indonesian islands includes:

  • Dengue, a common and potentially serious viral infection transmitted by mosquito bites. Cases here have almost doubled every year for five years and are mostly associated with international travel, particularly to Bali. There is currently no vaccine and no effective treatment. Control relies on avoiding mosquito bites where the disease is present.
  • Gastrointestinal infections due to Salmonella, Campylobacter and E.coli. Around one third of Salmonella cases originate overseas, mostly in Bali where Salmonella Enteritidis is common.
  • HIV/AIDS, and other blood borne viruses from contaminated tattoos, but can also arise from unprotected intercourse, recreational injecting drug use and other exposure to contaminated blood or body fluids. Evidence in recent case may point to tattoo but other routes of infection are possible. In recent case causal contribution of tattoo is debatable.
  • Legionnaires’ disease connected with hotel air conditioning, spa baths and warm water systems. Recent cases in people staying in Kuta hotel.
  • Rabies, from dog and monkey bites. More than 130 local rabies deaths in recent years. Most districts affected. A control programme has caused a fall in numbers of cases, but has not eliminated the disease. Regular reports of tourists unable to obtain or complete post-exposure vaccination in Bali due to inadequate supply. [Read Geographical Magazine‘s article on the Bali rabies eradication programme]
  • Other infections: Japanese encephalitis can occur following mosquito bites in rural areas. Chikungunya is another mosquito-borne viral infection with an unpronounceable name. Leptospirosis can arise following exposure to contaminated inland water. Sexually transmitted infections are common when holiday-makers let their guard down, throw caution to the wind and engage in behaviour they may come to regret soon afterwards.

The current (as of 26-DEC-11) official recommendation is to reconsider travel to Indonesia, but this doesn’t seem to stop large numbers of Australian holiday makers travelling without taking professional advice or specific health precautions. General practitioners and travel medicine specialists have to pick up the pieces when holiday-makers fail to respect the hazards of mass tourism in a developing country. The risks are not the same as those of holiday travel at home. A naive she’ll-be-right approach to international travel in our region is irresponsibly dangerous.

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