World Youth Day 2019 - information for travellers

epidemiological update

In 2019, World Youth Day (WYD) will take place between 22 and 27 January 2019 in Panama City, Panama with an expected half a million participants. During mass gathering events, the most common health risks are related to vaccine-preventable diseases, gastrointestinal illnesses and vector-borne diseases in favourable climate conditions.

In 2019, World Youth Day (WYD) will take place between 22 and 27 January 2019 in Panama City, Panama with an expected half a million participants. The Catholic Church organises this event every two to three years with open air masses and religious processions for pilgrims, priests and nuns from around the world. The majority of participants are aged 15–35 years. Previously, 3.5 million people attended WYD in Krakow, Poland in 2016 and 3.7 million people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013. It is difficult to assess how many Europeans will participate in WYD in Panama.

During mass gathering events, the most common health risks are related to vaccine-preventable diseases, gastrointestinal illnesses and vector-borne diseases in favourable climate conditions.

Prior to travel to Panama, WYD participants should ensure that all their vaccinations are up to date in accordance with the national immunisation schedule in their country of residence, particularly at least two doses of measles-containing-vaccine (usually MMR), as well as mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio. Vaccination against hepatitis A and typhoid should also be considered. As there is a risk of airborne diseases, travellers may also consider vaccination against seasonal influenza and a Meningococcal ACWY vaccine.

WYD participants are advised to practice good hygiene and wash hands often, especially after using the toilet and before handling and/or eating food. If water is not available, disinfectants should be used. To avoid the risk of gastrointestinal illness drink safe, boiled, chlorinated or bottled water, eat thoroughly cooked food and carefully wash fruits and vegetables with clean water.

In order to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, all travellers to Panama are advised to apply individual personal protective measures against mosquito bites such as the use of mosquito repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers and sleep and rest in screened or air-conditioned rooms or use mosquito bed nets at night and during the day. These preventive measures are necessary to reduce the risk of exposure to yellow fever, Zika virus disease, dengue, chikungunya virus disease and malaria.

Malaria risk in Panama is predominantly associated with Plasmodium vivax all year long in regions located along the Atlantic coast and the borders with Costa Rica and Colombia (for more information on type of prevention by risk area, see WHO vaccination requirements and recommendations for international travellers, including yellow fever and malaria). For Panama City, the risk is considered negligible.

Dengue remains the main vector-borne disease in Panama with seasonal increase usually reported between July and December. Based on the 2018 epidemiological situation, the circulation of Zika virus disease and chikungunya is considered to be low (only sporadic cases in 2018). A risk of yellow fever transmission is present in parts of Panama, notably in rural areas. Yellow fever vaccination is required at entry if arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and from countries with an active yellow fever outbreak. Yellow fever vaccination is not advised for travellers who will visit areas west of the canal, Panama City, the canal area itself and the Balboa (Pearl Islands) and San Blas Islands.

Rabies in Panama has been reported in domestic and wild animals, including bats. The risk of rabies is considered low for most of travellers, but travellers should avoid contact with any animals. If exposed, treatment has to occur as soon as possible. Treatment consists of local wound care, vaccination and passive immunisation with immunoglobulins if indicated.

An increase in the number of hantavirus (Choclo virus) cases has been reported in Los Santos Province in 2018. The risk is considered low for WYD participants, but outdoor activities such as camping or hiking in the affected area can increase the risk of exposure.

Safe sex practices and the use of condoms should be promoted in order to avoid sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B and C. More information on safe sex is available here.

In the event of falling ill upon return, pilgrims should report their stay in Panama to their physician. Travellers who require hospitalization in the EU after hospitalisation in Panama should report their previous stay so as not to delay the possible ascertainment of recent healthcare-associated infections.

ECDC will closely monitor the event through routine epidemic intelligence activities between 14 January–3 February 2019 and will report on a weekly basis.

The latest news on communicable disease threats in Europe is available on the ECDC website or through the ECDC Threat Reports app.