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Diseases potentially acquired by travel to Southeast Asia

David Murdoch, MD, MSc, DTM&H, FRACP, FRCPA, FFSc(RCPA)
Section Editor
Karin Leder, MBBS, FRACP, PhD, MPH, DTMH
Deputy Editor
Elinor L Baron, MD, DTMH


Southeast Asia encompasses the region from southern China through the Indochina peninsula and islands bordering the South China Sea to the island of New Guinea. The countries within this region are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The region straddles the equator between latitudes of 30ºN and 10ºS and comprises rain forests, savanna, tropical beaches, and volcanic islands.

The health risks vary considerably between regions within Southeast Asia. There are a few places (eg, Singapore) where the food and waterborne risks do not differ appreciably from Western Europe, North America, and Australia.


The largest contemporary experience in travel-related disease in developing countries comes from GeoSentinel, the global surveillance network of the International Society of Travel Medicine and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [1,2]. A 2013 report from 53 GeoSentinel sites provided clinical-based surveillance information on more than 42,000 ill travelers who returned unwell from a trip between 2007 and 2011 [1]. Among over 6800 diagnoses made in travelers who returned from Southeast Asia, over 90 percent of diagnoses fell into one of three categories: gastrointestinal (30 percent), febrile illness (26 percent), and dermatologic (35 percent):

Among patients with a systemic febrile illness, dengue, P. falciparum and P. vivax malaria, and chikungunya virus were the top specific diagnoses.

Among patients with diarrhea, Campylobacter, Giardia, and Salmonella were the three most common organisms isolated.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 16, 2017.
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