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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Wish you weren’t here!

    Spring break is thought of as a stress-free time of enjoyment, but students traveling south of the border can bring home more than just a new tan.

    Each year after spring break, health clinics and hospitals in the area treat a growing number of students who suffer from various illnesses and diseases contracted from their time in Mexico, said Janelle Jensen, a health educator at the Pima County Health Department.

    This increase in illnesses occurs because of students’ contact with an environment that their bodies are not familiar with. In Mexico students are often surrounded by health risks they would not normally be concerned with in the United States, said Rod Norrish, an epidemiologist at the Pima County Health Department.

    “”Sometimes you can get sick in just a matter of hours,”” he said. “”This can really spoil your spring break.””

    Some of the most common illnesses contracted in Mexico are hidden within everyday food.

    Salmonella, shigella and campylobacter are infections typically found in uncooked or undercooked food, Norrish said.

    After being infected with these diseases, severe diarrhea and vomiting can occur within just a few hours and stay with a person for up to a week, he said.

    Because such illnesses can also be found in certain Mexican water supplies, drinking bottled water is never a bad idea, Norrish said.

    While the prospect of vomiting and diarrhea may not seem daunting to typical college students, there is potential for much worse.

    Excessive vomiting and diarrhea can result in a serious case of dehydration, even for students who are relatively healthy, he said.

    “”This is the primary risk for people who are experiencing vomiting and diarrhea,”” Norrish said.

    If students feel they are dehydrated or are already ill, it is crucial for them to immediately seek medical attention, he said.

    “”If you are already healthy, you can usually ride it out,”” Norrish said. “”If you have any health problems or have a chronic illness, that could be a problem.””

    To avoid food-borne illnesses, students should take note of the cleanliness of restaurants, as well as food servers, he said.

    “”Be choosy. Go to places with good reputations,”” Norrish said. “”(Diseases) can easily be transmitted by food handlers.””

    Besides the usual suspects, there are some rarer diseases that can wreak havoc for vacationers.

    The contraction of Hepatitis A has become prevalent particularly in the Rocky Point area. The infection is brought on when fecal matter comes in contact with the mouth, he said.

    Much of the problem in Rocky Point stems from eating oysters. Many of the oyster beds are contaminated with fecal matter from improperly disposed sewage. To counter the likelihood of infection, oysters should be steamed before they are eaten, Norrish said.

    A particularly interesting threat to watch out for is the norovirus, a virus that has gained attention over recent years because of outbreaks on several cruise ships. The virus has also infected many people in Tucson this year, Norrish said.

    The dangerous aspect of the norovirus lies in its method of infection, as it can be contracted from food, water and human contact. Since it can spread quickly among a group, it is important for all members of a group to stay clean, he said.

    Group members should not share drinks or eating utensils and should also be careful when cleaning vomit. The importance of hand washing should not be undervalued either, Norrish said.

    “”If one person gets sick, everyone can get sick,”” he said.

    Students should also be wary of touching animals, as they may be infected with rabies. Often, vacationers will get bitten by a rabid cat or dog and not report it until later. Because the lack of tissue sample from the infected animal results in doctors being unaware of which specific vaccine to give patients, health professionals must give infected individuals the full course of several shots, Norrish said.

    “”Rabies is a major problem with unclaimed animals in Mexico,”” he said. “”It can be a dangerous situation.””

    Besides food and water-borne illnesses, students should also be careful to avoid sexually transmitted diseases while on spring break.

    Like other breaks throughout the year, the conclusion of spring break also brings an increase of STDs along with it, said Lee Ann Hamilton, interim co-director of Health Promotion and Preventive Services for Campus Health.

    Some of the most prevalent STDs seen among those returning from spring break are Chlamydia and the Hepatitis B virus, Norrish said.

    While Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, the danger lies in the stealth of the disease. Because Chlamydia often shows no symptoms, it can be passed on to sexual partners without anyone knowing, said Jennifer Vanderleest, a physician at the UA College of Medicine.

    Hepatitis B is one of the more serious risks facing those traveling south of the border. Like Chlamydia, Hepatitis B has the ability to hide itself, often for weeks or even months.

    Although it can clear itself out of an adult’s system on its own, the infection can cause liver inflammation and sometimes even death, Norrish said.

    “”People can walk around for a while and not even know they have it,”” he said. “”It’s a dangerous thing, though, because it can develop into some serious liver problems.””

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