Updated 27 March 2014

Of belly bugs and social itches

Travel can hold more risks than a bit of jet lag and having your laptop snatched...

So you’re off on a whirlwind trip – two days each in Angola, Uganda, Malawi and Kenya, followed by four days in Amsterdam, two in Brussels and two in London. Your passport will look like a four-seasons pizza by the end of the trip. If the whole deal comes off, it’ll be a real coup and it’ll look really good on your CV.

You’ll be sleeping in an airliner seat one night, under a mosquito net the next, and in a 17th Century baroque hotel next to a muddy Dutch canal the night after that.

The one thing you can’t afford on this trip is illness. Your trip will expose you to an array of cultures, with the commensurate variety of plumbing, catering and sleeping arrangements. The potential for sickness is very real. Here are a few ways to ensure that your well-planned trip suffers nothing worse than delayed flights.

  • Say “ah”: See your doctor at least six weeks before you leave. Some vaccines don't become completely effective until about six weeks after you get the shots.
  • Hone your choppers: Have thorough medical and dental check-ups before your trip and have any lingering problems with your teeth fixed.
  • Pack your pills: Find out what your health insurance will pay for if you see a doctor while you're in another country. Carry enough of your regular medicines in their original containers, along with extra prescriptions for them, as well as prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses. Wear a medical information bracelet if you need one.
  • Be fussy: Eat carefully if you're going to a country with an increased risk of traveller's diarrhoea. Steaming-hot, well-cooked food is usually safest. Know the risks involved in eating foods from street vendors, unpasteurised dairy products and raw seafood. Peel fruit yourself. Drink water from commercially sealed bottles or drink tinned beverages. Use bottled water when you brush your teeth. Avoid putting ice in your drinks.
  • Go undercover: If you're going to a country with a risk of malaria, take malaria medicine. Remember to start taking your malaria medicine before you leave on your trip, during your travels and for four weeks after you return.
  • Be a nerd: Avoid swimming and other water activities in freshwater lakes and streams in Africa as many contain schistosomiasis and bilharzia.
  • Slap on goo: If you're going to a country with an increased risk of mosquito-borne disease, protect yourself against insects by wearing plenty of insect repellent.
  • Don’t bring home something that’s social and itches: Sex with strangers has an allure that’s almost as powerful as bubble-wrap. Avoid it. You can pick up all sorts of exotic ailments, not all of which are curable.

- William Smook, Health24, updated July 2011


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