World travel can make anyone sick, but Swiss researchers found that men and women tend to suffer different illnesses. Women, says the research, are more prone to stomach problems and men are at higher risk of fevers and sexually transmitted diseases.
A study of almost 59000 international travelers by the University of Zurich found women were more likely than men to come down with bouts of diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems, colds, urinary tract infections and adverse reactions to medications, such as those taken to prevent malaria.
Men had higher risks of fever, including from infections transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks or other such vectors, such as malaria, dengue and rickettsia.
Men are also more likely than women to be treated for mountain sickness, frostbite or sexually transmitted diseases.
Researcher Dr. Patricia Schlagenhauf said the findings, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, offer travelers and travel-medicine specialists a clearer idea of how to prepare for international trips.
For example female travelers should be especially sure to bring antidiarrheal medication.
While all travelers need advice on preventing mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, the researchers said men may need to pay particular attention to preventive measures, like frequently reapplying insect repellent.
The findings were based on data from 44 travel-medicine clinics throughout the world, all of which are part of a surveillance network designed to track travel-related ills and injuries.
Schlagenhauf and her colleagues looked at records for 58908 patients who visited those clinics between 1997 and 2007. Just over 3% of men were treated for malaria, and roughly the same number sought treatment for dengue, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes. That compared with rates of 1.5% and 1.7% respectively among women. Overall, over 17% of men had some type of fever-inducing illness, versus 11% of women.
The exact reason for the sex difference are not clear. One possibility, according to the researchers, is that make "more attractive hosts" to mosquitoes because the insects are lured by sweat, and excessive sweating washes off insect repellent.