Men vs Women: different health issues

According to medical research, male travellers are overconfident daredevils, while women are chronic worriers. Here we explain travel’s sexual divide

5 mins
It’s official: men and women are truly different.

Research by travel-health experts, led by Dr Patricia Schlagenhauf of the University of Zürich, shows that risks to health among international travellers are controlled, to some extent, by gender.

The research audited consultations with 58,908 people who were seen in 44 clinics across Europe, North America, Australia and Nepal between 1997 and 2007. The data was adjusted for age, travel duration, pre-travel encounters, reasons for travel and geographical region visited so that the data was not biased by the fact that men might choose different destinations and styles of trip or activity.

The results are interesting - not just in identifying ailments but also in exposing differences in attitudes to disease prevention and taking pre-travel precautions.

Women are more likely...

to attend clinics with:

• Diarrhoea/gastroenteritis • Irritable bowel syndrome
• Constipation and abdominal pain
• Colds and sore throats
• Urinary tract infections
• Psychological stressors
• Oral and dental conditions
• Allergic or other reactions to medication.

Women are significantly more likely...

to obtain pre-travel advice than men

Women are less likely...

than ill male travellers to be hospitalised

Men are more likely...

to attend clinics with:

• Fever
• Vector-borne diseases (eg malaria, dengue, leishmaniasis or tick-borne infections)
• Sexually transmitted infections
• Viral hepatitis

• Non-infectious problems, including heart disease, acute mountain sickness and frostbite.

Diarrhoea isn't choosy...

Diarrhoeal disease was common in both groups:

25% of consultations with women and 22% of consultations with men were for treatment for this. A quick glance at the sex differences in clinic attendances might suggest that women whinge more but get less ill, and that men don’t bother to look after themselves as well as women – but, equally, don’t worry as much.

Men: live hard, die young?

Men, perhaps, are more likely to fall into that class of over-confident, live-hard-die-young travellers who think they understand their risks and might not bother to check whether their immunisations are up to date.

The research suggests that men fail to cover up and protect themselves from mosquito, sandfly and tick-bites, and fail to take effective antimalarial medication. This fact alone might explain why they are more likely to experience fever or a significant vector-borne disease, and why the outcome more often results in being admitted to hospital.

Or is it that men really do suffer more? A paper published by Cambridge-based Dr Olivier Restif suggests that the male immune system could be weaker than that of the female. It seems ‘man flu’ may actually exist.

Vaccine variations

Viral hepatitis comes in several varieties but two of them are vaccine-preventable. These vaccines are likely to be offered in a pre-departure travel briefing with your GP or at a specialist travel clinic – which men are less likely to seek.

Hepatitis A is a common infection that is easily acquired by eating food prepared by someone who can’t or won’t observe good hand hygiene practise. The vaccine gives excellent long-term protection.

The second most common, viral hepatitis B, is acquired in similar ways to HIV – especially via unsafe sex, but also from unsterile medical equipment, acupuncture and tattoo needles.

Men are at risk if they are taking chances with their sexual health; as 1% of male consultations were for sexually transmitted infections, the data supports previous research that found men do frequently enjoy the, er, nightlife while travelling, and don’t always practise safe sex. Men are also at risk from hepatitis B if they aren’t immunised.

Worried women

Women consult doctors at home more than men. Some of the reasons for this are that gynaecological symptoms are common and women often need advice or prescriptions regarding their fertility.

Women also often suffer from cystitis (aka urinary tract infections). These are commonest in sexually active women; travel often gives more time and opportunity for romance, so cystitis is common on trips away. The dehydration that comes on so easily in hot climates also increases the likelihood of bladder infections. Women at home also often suffer from abdominal pain; the risks of travel add to this already common symptom.

Antimalarials are more likely to cause side effects in women: doxycycline can cause thrush and Lariam (mefloquine) is more likely to cause mood disorders in women than in men. Women should perhaps consider pricier Malarone for side-effect-free short trips.

Men should...

Seek expert health advice before travel and ensure they have all the advised vaccinations

Take precautions against insect and tick bites: cover up with longer clothes and use DEET mosquito repellent

Take antimalarial pills if advised and know when and where to take them

Know how to make up homemade oral rehydration solution to combat the effects of diarrhoea

Read up on risks such as altitude sickness and accident avoidance and research the destinations you are visiting

Pack plenty of condoms

Be fit for their planned trip/activity

Always wear a helmet if you are driving a motorcycle - no matter how lax the rules are or whether locals are wearing them

Recognise their mortality

Women should...

Take expert health advice – including which antimalarial pill is most likely to suit them

Know any medicines that have upset them in the past

Read up on managing cystitis with fluids and bicarbonate of soda

Carry a 1L water bottle and a means of sterilising tap water so they don’t skimp on intake

Know how to make up homemade oral rehydration solution to combat the effects of diarrhoea

Pack a few sore throat lozenges and a favourite cold remedy

Know which antibiotics have worked well in the past

Travel with a few condoms or femidoms

Be fit for their planned trip/activity

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