June 16, 2010
By now even those who don't know the difference between "football" and "futbol" have heard the buzz surrounding the infamous vuvuzela, a trumpet-shaped noisemaker favored by 2010 World Cup attendees. But a little hearing damage could be the least of your health concerns if you're making the trek to South Africa to attend the soccer tournament.
Public health officials have stated, loud and clear, that Americans should be wary of risky sexual encounters while visiting the Rainbow Nation. Kevin Fickenscher, M.D., says HIV and AIDS exposure is a great concern for tourists, since nearly 12 percent of South Africa's population is infected. The country is prepared, with more than a million free condoms being distributed, but Dr. Fickenscher suggests practicing safe sex and "being smart" to avoid problems.
He also says that when large groups of people gather for an event, like the 19th World Cup, there's potential for the spread of disease, such as influenza, "among the herd."
Dr. Ruth McNerney of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that vuvuzelas—the plastic horns that have become the cheering device of choice for World Cup fans—"have the potential to spread colds and flu, as a lot of breath goes through the vuvuzela," according to an Associated Press article. With South Africa in the middle of its flu season, the country sees a higher caseload of respiratory diseases. So, in addition to the required vaccinations you'll need before leaving the country, you might want to schedule a flu shot.
If fear of catching the flu in a foreign country doesn't lessen the temptation to get your hands (or mouth) around a vuvuzela, perhaps the possibility of going deaf will "prick up your ears." The fact is, the vuvuzela emits an estimated 127 decibels, according to Hear the World, a foundation created by hearing-aid maker Phonak. The group says that, "when subjected to 100 decibels or more, hearing damage can occur in just 15 minutes."
Since even the casual soccer fan knows that games run 90 minutes, that's six chances per match to beat up on your eardrums to the tune of a chainsaw (100 decibels) plus some.
So until FIFA officials ban the noisy horns, globetrotting Americans eager to witness a World Cup game in person should be sure to save luggage space for earplugs, hand sanitizer and condoms—along with a heavy dose of common sense.
For more information, visit Perot Systems and Hear the World.
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