“We should go to Africa for our next vacation.” said my friend.
“Africa?” I questioned. Imagining exotic diseases, I shuddered at the thought, while my friend was contemplating an open-jeep safari in the grasslands of Kenya racing a zebra.
Each year million of Americans travel overseas exposing themselves to uncommon illnesses. Though I fear and treat these illnesses, good preventive measures can almost always assure a healthy vacation.
One in three travelers returning from the tropics will bring back more than just photos, souvenirs, and pleasant memories; they will likely have traveler’s diarrhea. This illness may be as simple as nausea and stomach cramps or as sever as fever and bloody diarrhea. It is caused by contaminated food, water or ice from street vendors or local restaurants. The gospel on how to prevent diarrhea is well know: “Boil it, peel it, wash it or forget it.”
After your travels, if you are spending more time in the bathroom, then the treatment options include drinking lots of fluids to maintain hydration, taking an over the counter anti-diarrhea medicine, and consulting your doctor if you have a fever.
Another travel related illness which is more subtle is malaria. Sometimes, I get a call from an ER doctor to see a patient with a flu-like illness: high fevers, headache and muscle pain. The flu doesn’t occur in the summer so a question as simple as “have you traveled anywhere recently?” solves the mystery of the fever, only if the patient has traveled to South-East Asia or the African continent. It is most certainly suspicious for malaria.
Malaria occurs when a female mosquito bites and spits the Plasmodium parasite into the bloodstream. Malaria can be treated easily with medicines, but often the diagnosis is missed on an initial exam. Prevention is a must with protective clothing, bed nets, insect repellent with DEET and prophylactic medications.
Other common diseases among travelers include Hepatitis A, which is easily prevented by vaccination, and typhoid fever, which is treated by antibiotics.
Just be aware, precautions of food, water, and mosquitoes will go a long way in a healthy travel to the tropics. On second thought, maybe we will go to Africa next summer.