How To Avoid (And Deal With) 5 Common Travel Diseases

We have been in Thailand for 3 weeks now, and decided to update all the vaccinations we need at the Red Cross in Bangkok (thanks to JohnnyVagabond for the tip) While traveling the world, your body is introduced to many new bugs and bacterias, some of which are more dangerous than others – so today we are going to share 5 common travel diseases, what they are, how to avoid them.

Please remember, this post is not meant to scare you but remind you to take precautions so you can travel safe and happy.

1. Malaria

What?
Malaria is a serious disease caused by parasites. It’s fatal if left untreated.

How?
Malaria is transmitted by a bite from a malaria-infected female mosquito.

Where?
More than 100 countries are in the danger zones of Malaria (India, Central and South America, SE Asia, Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa).

Sometimes it can be difficult knowing how bad the malaria is in some places, and it differs between what every doctor says as well.

One doctor advised me to take malaria pills in Malaysia but not in Vanuatu, another said I didn’t need them for any of the countries, which can make it a tricky decision since the side effects of the pill are really horrible and you don’t want to take them when you don’t need them.

Prevention:
There are several different Anti-malarial drugs to prevent and treat Malaria. The choice of which drug to use depends on side effects, the malaria type and which drugs the parasite is resistant to in that area, so make sure that you get the appropriate drug for your situation and destination.

Malaria pills aren’t 100% effective, so to be extra safe, sleep under a mosquito net, use insect repellents (make sure it has DEET) and wear long pants and shirts in the evening or when walking in places with a lot of mosquitoes.

Side Effects:
The side effect of taking malaria pills can sometimes feel just as bad as having malaria, so my suggestion is to take the drugs ONLY if you really know that there will be malaria where you go.

#### NOTE: While at the Red Cross in Bangkok a few weeks ago, they told us that they don’t give out malaria pills anymore because of the side-effects etc. It seems like things are changing, and doctors don’t just randomly hand out pills as much anymore – best thing is to not take them, just be smart, use common sense, and take the right precautions when traveling in affected areas.) ####

2. Travelers Diarrhea

What?
Travelers diarrhea is exactly what it sounds like – frequent diarrhea (NOT a Bali Belly or Delhi Belly).

How?
A foreign bacteria or bug enters your system, most often from contaminated food and water.

Many travelers also get upset stomachs because of the sudden diet change. Spicy food often causes an irritated bowel and you get diarrhea. When this happens, stay hydrated and don’t eat any spicy food.

Where?
It can happen anywhere, but the risk is higher in developing countries in Africa, Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

Prevention:
Always drink bottled water, don’t even brush your teeth in tap water if it’s not drinkable, and keep your mouth closed when showering.
If you’re unsure whether the ice is from tap water or bottled water, don’t risk it but ask for no ice in your drink.

Stick to cooked food, especially make sure that the meat is well cooked.  Other food to be careful with is fruit (preferably peel it yourself) and seafood.

Always carry a disinfection gel around and wash your hands with it a few times a day, especially before eating and after having dealt with money.

Treatment:
If the damage is already done, then the best way to stop it is to have Imodium and Pepto-Bismol to stop it. If the diarrhea doesn’t go away and/or gets worse, seek a doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and your doctor can give you advice on what to eat and the local remedies for diarrhea.

3. Cholera

What?
Cholera is a severe bacterial disease affecting the intestines, creating vomiting and watery diarrhea.The disease is fatal if left untreated. It’s an extreme type of travel diarrhea.

How?
The germ is spread by drinking contaminated water or infected food. The source of the contaminated water is often due to other cholera patients’ diarrhea let through into the waterways.

Remember that even shellfish living in affected waterways can cause this infection.

Where?
This disease can be found in Indonesia, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.

Prevention:
There is a drinkable vaccine (Dukoral), two doses will keep you safe for two years (with the second dose taken a week after the first). Use the same precautions as for normal Travel Diarrhea.

4. Hepatitis A & B

What?
Both Hepatitis A and B are viral infections of the liver, however Hepatitis B is transmitted differently and it takes longer to get well.

How?
The most common transmission for hepatitis A is via contaminated food and water. The virus breaks down in the discharge and spread via contaminated water that people drink, as well as food that has been in contact with contaminated water.

Often you don’t notice that you’re infected because there are little to no symptoms and the symptoms can come a long time after you’ve been infected (Hepatitis A 2-6 weeks, Hepatitis B 2-6 months), but the symptoms can also make you feel sick for months. Typical symptoms are nausea, fever, malaise and abdominal problems.

Hepatitis B is transmitted via blood – blood transfusions or needles – and sex with an infected person.

Where?
Most common in less developed countries and regions with poor hygiene standards. Africa, Southern Asia and Latin America are common places, but it exists everywhere.

Prevention:
Vaccinations are 95-100% effective when taken at least 4 weeks prior to trip. A second vaccine (Havrix) boost 6-12 months later and then it lasts for the next 20+ years. There is a vaccination that covers for both hepatitis A and B called Twinrix.

This one has to be taken 3 times for 20 years of coverage: The second one 1 month after the first, and the third one 6 months after the first dose.

5. Typhoid Fever

What?
A bacterial infection in the intestines, and sometimes the bloodstream.

How?
It’s transmitted by contaminated food or water with salmonella. Typical symptoms are severe headache, nausea, massive loss of appetite and fever.

Where?
It exists everywhere but the risks are highest in poor countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, as well as in the Indian subcontinents and Mexico.

Prevention:
The vaccine is only between 50-80% safe so stay away from water that could be contaminated (like tap water) and uncooked food. Take the vaccine two weeks before travel.

Well, there you go – not the nicest article to read I know, but it is important to educate yourself on what is out there, so you are prepared while traveling.

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