by Mubarak Dahir
With more than 500 million people crossing international borders daily, globetrotting execs are more at risk for catching diseases than ever before
Racked with intense muscle aches and a 104-degree fever, (Novica's) Catherine Ryan lay immobile in her Los Angeles bed, convinced she was dying.
"My muscles felt like they were bound in tight knots," she recalls. "Every muscle fiber felt like it was contracting severely. It was the most pain I've ever been in."
It was 1994, and Ryan, then a freelance journalist, was just home from an assignment in southern Mexico, where she'd traveled through the jungle with Indian rebels in Chiapas. For three weeks, she shadowed the rebels as they waged an armed uprising against the Mexican government. Her meals consisted of dried corn and stale tortillas pulled from the soldier's backpacks. Her bed was a sleeping bag spread on the jungle floor.
But her endurance paid off. After two weeks of roughing it with the revolutionaries, Ryan won their trust, and in the third week there, snagged an interview with the leading military chief, thus coming home with a journalistic coup.
Unknown to her at the time, however, she also returned with something far less glamorous: a crippling case of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne virus with no preventive vaccine and no known medical treatment.
"About the best we can do for it is numb our patients with codeine," said Dr. Gregory Juckett, coordinator of the West Virginia University Travel Clinic in Morgantown, West Virginia. "Dengue fever's got to be one of the most anguishing diseases you can catch. It cuts right through to the bone."
Though Ryan had to endure excruciating pain, she emerged unscathed in the long run. Others are less fortunate. For some, the agony ends in death. Others, while they survive, may face long-term health effects of low blood pressure, kidney problems or a bleeding disorder.
Medical experts say Ryan is not an isolated case. International business travelers may be more at risk today than ever before for catching a variety of ailments from simple, though extremely uncomfortable, traveler's diarrhea to the more exotic - and dangerous - illnesses such as meningitis or Japanese encephalitis.
"The world is now a global village, which means there is global opportunity for diseases to spread all over the place," said David Unkle, a registered nurse and operations manager of the Americas region for SOL International, a Philadelphia company that provides medical expertise to overseas business travelers...
Despite her bout with dengue fever, Ryan hasn't curtailed her international adventures. Today, as vice president of communications for Novica.com, a Web site in association with National Geographic that promotes the craft work of artisans in remote villages around the world, she continues to travel everywhere from the Amazon in Peru to bush villages in Ghana.
"I wouldn't want to stay home and miss the treasures of the world out of undue fear," she said.
We've put together a list of the world's 10 top disease threats that business travelers face: What they are, where they lurk and how to avoid them.