- Japanese encephalitis can cause inflammation of the brain and approximately 25% of cases in which the brain is affected are fatal.
- Travelers to South Korea should consider receiving the vaccination against Japanese encephalitis.
- Children have a higher risk than adults of contracting Japanese encephalitis.
- In a recent test conducted in the city of Busan, 64% of the mosquitoes that were examined tested positive for Japanese encephalitis. These findings prompted the Korea Centers for Disease Control to issue a nationwide alert.
A viral infection that is most commonly characterized by mild symptoms to no visible symptoms at all, Japanese encephalitis may also cause inflammation of the brain in a small percentage of infected humans. Symptoms of brain inflammation may include high fever, headache, tremors, coma, disorientation, and convulsions. Approximately 25 percent of cases in which the brain is affected are fatal. There is currently no specific treatment for Japanese encephalitis; however, much of the disease risk can be mitigated by receiving a vaccination and taking proper mosquito precautions.
Japanese Encephalitis Risk to Travelers
Risk of infection for those who will be traveling to areas that have reported cases of Japanese encephalitis is relatively low. Nevertheless, travelers are advised to take precautions, as infection may occur. The virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes that belong to the Culex species, namely Culex tritaeniorhynchus. Transmission most commonly occurs in rural agricultural parts of Asia, where rice production and regular flooding often take place. Transmission is seasonal in temperate parts of Asia with summer and fall being the times of year during which the highest number of human cases are reported. The disease may be transmitted at any time of the year in tropical and subtropical regions, though the number of cases may peak during the rainy season.
Japanese Encephalitis in South Korea
Travelers to South Korea, in particular, should consider receiving the vaccination against Japanese encephalitis. In a recent test that was conducted in the city of Busan, 64 percent of the mosquitoes that were examined tested positive for the disease. The results of the tests prompted the Korea Centers for Disease Control to issue a nationwide alert. Because mosquitoes in the area are most active until the end of October, people are advised to use mosquito nets and to limit their time spent outside during the warmer months. Researchers believe changes in climate are helping mosquitoes that are affected by the disease breed in ever greater numbers.
Most Vulnerable Groups
Children have a higher risk than adults of contracting Japanese encephalitis. In response to the perceived threat the disease may pose for children in the Korean peninsula, the global relief group Carnitas has vaccinated 430,000 children in the peninsula against the virus at the time of this writing. The group plans to vaccinate 2.3 million children against the disease by the end of 2013.
Travelers who are planning a trip to South Korea should consider visiting a travel healthcare professional several weeks before their trip. Travel health specialists offer clients the benefit of learning more about health concerns and how they may affect travel, receiving a pre-travel checkup, as well as vaccines and malaria prophylaxis drugs all in one place. Travel clinics also offer advice regarding passport-related issues, tips for remaining safe, as well as addressing other needs that may arise for people who are planning to go abroad. Whether you are a first time overseas adventurer or a seasoned travel veteran, scheduling an appointment with a travel health specialist is always the best way to prepare for an upcoming journey.