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Medical tourists should beware the bugs


People contemplating travelling overseas for cheaper cosmetic surgery and other medical procedures have been warned they run the risk of contracting serious antibiotic-resistant infections.

As interest in medical tourism swells, health insurer NIB has broken new ground by offering overseas cosmetic and dental surgery packages that cover airfares, transfers and accommodation, as well as treatment by qualified surgeons and dentists at accredited facilities, backed by a guarantee to cover any medical complications arising from the procedure during the following 12 months.

The offering seeks to tap into rapid growth in the number of Australians travelling overseas, particularly to Thailand, to undergo surgery – including major procedures such as hip and knee replacements, organ transplants and cardiac surgery – and recuperate while staying at a resort or other holiday destination.

But NPS Medicinewise said many were unaware of the risk they faced of being infected with a drug-resistant superbug.
A survey it commissioned from UMR Research found that around half of travellers had not considered the possibility of contracting a serious infection while receiving medical treatment overseas.

NPS Medicinewise clinical advisor Dr Andrew Boyden said this was concerning because of the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bugs overseas, and the fact that many health care facilities did not have the same infection control standards as their Australian counterparts.

“Australians need to be aware that the over-the-counter availability of antibiotics in some regions of the world, coupled with different infrastructure, policies and practices in overseas health facilities, have contributed to the emergence of so-called superbugs in some health care systems,” Dr Boyden said.

“What’s more, medical tourism packages are often combined with a vacation. People recovering from surgery may be exposed to a broader range of antibiotic-resistant bugs in the community.

“This is a particular concern where multi-drug resistant organisms are rife.”

He said anyone undergoing medical treatment while overseas should have a checkup with their doctor when they return, including telling them of what they had had done.

“You doctor will need to keep in mind that you may be carrying antibiotic-resistant bugs for an extended period after returning from your trip,” Dr Boyden said.

Adrian Rollins