Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

Dr Andrea Pinto, Associate Medical Director at Traveller Assist

Twitter: @TravellerSOS


As an Associate Medical Director at Traveller Assist, Dr. Andrea Pinto is responsible for assessing treatment strategies of patients and advising on short and long term healthcare planning. Andrea is a Medical Doctor from Venezuela, who also works part-time as a Physician in an Emergency Room just outside Caracas. She holds a Masters of Social Work and is fluent in English, Spanish and French. Prior to Traveller Assist, Andrea served as Director of the Standing Committee on Sexual and Reproductive Health, with a focus on HIV & AIDS.

Assistance Company Sees Rise in Sexually Transmitted Disease Cases Among Travellers in Latin America

As a medical assistance company who assists travellers on behalf of travel insurance companies in Latin America, we have seen our fair share of tropical diseases, epidemics and sickness associated with travelling to less developed countries. Recently however, we have witnessed a spike in sexually transmitted disease cases. What’s even more concerning is that from the nature of the cases, it would seem that a majority of these travellers brought their STD with them, rather than contracting it while travelling.

A majority of the travellers who we provide assistance for are Australian. Interestingly, a recent article by the Australasian Sexual Health Alliance quotes, “Hundreds of thousands of young Australians are living with a sexually transmitted infection… and researchers warn most don’t know they’ve got it.” From a medical standpoint, when you consider that most infected travellers don’t know that they are carrying an infection, and you mix that with typical behaviours associated with being on holiday, such as drinking in excess, eating greasy foods, lack of exercise, and poor hygiene – travellers are running the risk of increased symptoms leading to greater infection.

At Traveller Assist we have assisted 37 patients so far in 2017 who all tested positive for an STD that they did not know they had. The most common being Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, but they have also included Syphilis, Herpes and in two cases, the travellers’ tested positive for HIV. Unfortunately, in one extreme case, a backpacker who was travelling through the Amazon in Peru, lost her life after suffering a septic shock from infected genital herpes. In another case, a business traveller who tested positive for Hepatitis B was treated for liver failure, leading to a liver transplant.

At a recent seminar that our Head of Assistance attended in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Kirby Institute, it states that, “There were an estimated 285,000 new cases of Chlamydia in 15 to 29-year-olds by the end of 2016… That works out to roughly one in 20 young Australians.” That’s just one STD, and a statistic that only covers one age group. It is estimated that there was in fact 500,000+ new cases of Chlamydia between the ages of 15 to 65. A staggering half a million cases that only covered one STD. Now consider that there are over 20 known types of STD.

This issue is by no means exclusive to Australian travellers. We provide assistance for companies located in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States, and we have seen an increase in cases from each country.

Whether you are an employer, volunteer agency, school, university, travel agency or travel insurance company, you have a duty of care to your travellers to inform them of the risks associated with travelling. That includes informing them of the risks of unprotected sex, and advising them to be tested before they travel. In the long run, this will lead to the better health and wellbeing of your travellers, and it will greatly reduce your travel claims costs.

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