Those heading to China for the Olympics next month may be worried about exotic diseases like avian flu or SARS which have made headlines in recent years. But they would maybe do better to be concerned with more familiar health risks such as dog bites, ankle sprains and the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'Travelers need to be cautious about dog bites, as China has the second highest rate of human rabies cases in the world.'

Data on travel-related illnesses from the past decade indicate that the top three diagnoses made during travel to China were respiratory diseases (including influenza), injuries (including sprains/strains, fractures and contusions), and dermatologic conditions (including dog bites). Dermatological conditions, acute diarrhea and respiratory diseases topped the list of diagnoses made after travelers had returned home.

The findings, published June 26 in the online version of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, suggest that the best way to ensure safe travel while in China is to be aware of the potential risks associated with pollution, dogs and unsafe structures in public areas.

"Many international travelers worry about exotic diseases. They probably don't think about injuries or dog bites, but the study found that travelers to China sought treatment for these ailments more often," said Dr. Nina Marano, chief of the CDC's Travelers' Health and Animal Importation Branch and a co-author of the study. "Travelers need to be cautious about dog bites, as China has the second highest rate of human rabies cases in the world."

Although rabies is most commonly seen in rural areas, the consequences are very serious. Travelers who sustain dog bites will likely be required to leave the country for treatment with rabies immune globulin, which is not available in China.

Respiratory diseases are thought to be related to the high levels of pollution that have been reported in Beijing and other parts of China, which can also pose problems for travelers with asthma. Chinese authorities, however, are making efforts to minimize pollution levels in Beijing at the time of the games; restrictions aimed at reducing traffic by one million vehicles for three months will go into effect on July 20.