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The Olympics: Yet Another Thing to Worry About

Scott Vogel

Air pollution, terrorism, political unrest: The list of potential concerns by athletes and visitors regarding the upcoming Beijing Olympics just seems to go on and on. And now there's another one.

Rabies.

According to a study released just yesterday by the CDC, believe it or not, dog bites are among the more common health problems experienced by travelers to China. Worse, "China has the second highest rate of human rabies cases in the world," said the CDC's Dr. Nina Marano, as quoted in a press release on the report.

Illnesses of the respiratory tract such as bronchitis were still more frequent among travelers to China, and there are several other potential risks documented in a special Beijing section of the CDC Web site. For this reason, the agency is now recommending that all travelers visit a travel medicine clinic 4 to 6 weeks prior to the Games.

In other words: now.

It stands to reason that visitors should avoid petting stray animals, wash their hands frequently, etc., but the CDC has taken the further step of recommending that travelers "avoid all animals while in China." This is in part because 140,000 animal bites cases were reported in Beijing in 2006, as well as more than 3,000 deaths by rabies in China as a whole. (It's worth noting that most of those deaths occurred in rural areas outside Beijing; then again, many Americans are expected to visit such places in their pre- and post-Olympics travels.)

Another thing to keep in mind: "Dogs in China are often not properly vaccinated because of non-adherence to registration and vaccination requirements, especially in rural areas that travelers may visit after the Olympics."

Anyone out there planning an Olympics trip or have stories they'd like to share about past travels to China?

By Scott Vogel |  June 27, 2008; 11:42 AM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel , Travel Health
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The really disturbing part of this is that there is currently a shortage of the pre-exposure rabies vaccine, so use of it is being restricted to people at very high risk of animal bites (e.g. veterinarians).

Checking the CDC web site and consulting a travel medicine provider is always a good idea for anywhere outside of the developed world. I'd characterize China as a 2nd world country, more from what other people have told me than from my personal experiences (which are limited to Beijing).

That said, if you look at causes of death abroad, I think traffic accidents top the list by far. Beijing seemed relatively sane traffic-wise when I was there 10 years ago, but I'm sure it has only gotten more congested.

Posted by: xenophilia | June 27, 2008 12:47 PM

I am a journalism student that will be a reporter for the Olympics with the Beijing Olympics News Service. Ever since I have told people that I am going, everyone is warning me about the dangers.....For example, one of my mentors told me that I should be careful about using the internet while I am there and having people track what I am doing. Other people have told me to be careful, since I was considering keeping a blog while I was in China. Apparently working for the service means I have to be careful about what I write. Now my friend sent me a link to your blog. Great, rabies....I leave on Tuesday so I guess I don't have any shots...do you think people are exaggerating all these "dangers"?

Posted by: Carolina | June 27, 2008 3:21 PM

I have been in China and Taiwan several times. I "lived" living in Hong Kong for more that a month, and traveled frequently into the special industrialized zone. China is a wonderful and interesting place.
"Checking the CDC web site and consulting a travel medicine provider" as stated by xenophilia is a must! Get all recommended shots including hepatitis series - if not for this trip - future travel. Check the State Department site, as well.
I suggest being careful of some of the food - especially bivalve mollusks (oysters, muscles, etc) cooked or raw! I would not drink the water, and when you buy water - be sure the top "clicks" when you open it. Avoid getting into the local waters (like the sea or ocean) as pollution is a big problem.
Oh yea, and stay away from the dogs, there and in Chile and Greece...

Posted by: Diane | July 9, 2008 3:45 PM

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