The World Cup in Brazil could pose health dangers to Israeli soccer fans flying abroad for the month-long competition and to obsessive sports enthusiasts staying home who will watch games into the small hours of the morning. The quadrennial sporting event, which begins on Thursday and ends on July 14, will attract spectators from around the world, including an unknown number of Israelis.
Multinational research published two months ago in Clinical Infectious Diseases disclosed that numerous travelers from many countries who returned from attending sports events in Brazil between July 1997 and May 2013 brought home numerous diseases. One of the authors was Prof. Eli Schwartz, director of the Center for Geographic Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.
The international research was part of the GeoSentinal Surveillance Network, a network of special travel and tropical medicine clinics on six continents; Schwartz’s Tel Hashomer clinic is one of them.
The most common were dermatological diseases (40 percent), diarrheal syndromes (25%) and systemic diseases with high fever (19%. The skin disorders included Cutaneous larva migrans, myiasis and tungiasis. Acute and chronic diarrhea are the most common diarrheal syndromes, as are giardiasis and Campylobacter infection.
The most frequent causes of fever were malaria and Dengue fever.
Many fans who are in close quarters can also get infected with norovirus and influenza in Brazil. Of the 1,586 patients who returned home from the games, 28 were even infected with HIV (the AIDS virus).
Because Brazil is in the southern hemisphere, it is winter there, with the risk of influenza and other cold-weather diseases prevalent. The problem does not end with the World Cup. In 2016, many Israelis will fly to Brazil to attend the Olympic and Paralympic games.
According to the authors of the article, not only should travelers been required to get vaccinated against certain diseases, but family doctors and other clinicians should be informed about the fact that going to the World Cup could lead to certain disorders and ask patients with relevant symptoms if they had been there.
The Jerusalem Post sent the journal article to Health Ministry public health chief Prof. Itamar Grotto and the ministry spokeswoman’s office. Eight hours later, the spokeswoman sent its ongoing recommendations from the ministry website about avoiding malaria and other viral diseases but nothing about skin disorders. In addition to correct personal hygiene, the website statement said, travelers to Brazil should be vaccinated at hospital clinics for travelers or district health offices against hepatitis A; diphtheria- tetanus-whooping cough; chicken pox; measles; German measles; the mumps; influenza; hepatitis B; typhoid, meningococcus; and perhaps even rabies.
There is no malaria vaccine, but there are preventive medications that can help protect against it.
Dr. Emilie Anis, director of the ministry’s epidemiology division, said the ministry did not issue any special instructions regarding the World Cup and did not know how many Israelis are going. She referred those who are interested to the ministry website on travelers to Brazil.
But, she said, travel agents who arrange for airline tickets are informed regularly about such necessary health measures.
The ministry also did not think in advance about the sports fans who will remain home. Hundreds of thousands of soccer fans, probably most of them men, will have sleepless nights because instead of being played in Europe (close to Israel’s time zone) as usual, the games will be held in South America. This means that live TV broadcasts will be held mostly late at night or early in the morning.
Fans who watch for hours and then go to work without much sleep over the month could face danger from work accidents from machines and road accidents while driving. But the ministry’s public health officials did not consider this in advance, and the Post was told that “this is not our job.”