Your next vacation is coming up. You plan on going somewhere tropical; maybe Thailand, Indonesia, Costa Rica? You’ve researched your destination and know how beautiful the resort is, how friendly the people are and how scrumptious the food is. You want to go and start your journey, but you’re terrified of catching that local disease you’ve heard about on the news.
Obviously, we can’t give you medical advice, we’re not trained as doctors, but we can give you a bit of information that will be helpful to you. Remember though that you’ve got to be responsible travelers and make sure you plan well and if something goes wrong you have insurance and the ability to get help.
Here, we have given you a list of 10 of the world’s common tropical diseases that you’ve probably heard of. Our goal is to help you learn which vaccines to get and when you need to have them before heading off on your adventure. Talk to your doctor about where you’re going to be traveling and they can help you get prepared and stay safe.
In tropical climates like Indonesia and Mexico, as well as most of Africa below the Sahara Desert, malaria is rampant. If you’re going hiking in Java or on safari in Uganda, for example, you’ll have to make preparations. Malaria is a very deadly disease, but no need to worry. With the right course of action, it’s easily avoidable. Having said that, this disease especially shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The first place to start is by making inquiries about where in the world you are going. A reliable website, your travel agent or local tourism board will tell you if malaria is a risk factor in that area. If it is a risk, speak to your doctor about medication. There are no vaccines for malaria, but you’ll find a large range of medications that reduce the risk by a considerable amount. As a result of years of research, there have been major advances in malaria medication; the more recent one, Malarone, has no side effects and lasts for up to 28 days.
Malaria is spread by contaminated mosquitoes and there are a number of ways to be proactive about preventing it. In addition to your medication, you should:
- Put on insect repellent, especially at night
- Spray insect repellent in your bedroom
- Sleep with a mosquito net over you
Tuberculosis, or TB, is found all over the world, despite the fact that this lung disease is not contagious. If you’ve been vaccinated and you’ve got a regular immune system, you should be okay.
However, it can become a higher risk for travelers when entering smaller communities, where incidents are frequent. The disease is transmitted by close contact with an infected person or unprocessed milk. Hence the presence of TB in close-quarter living communities found in most of Africa, China, and India, which put these travel destinations at high risk. Backpackers staying in community housing and foreign aid workers, especially those working in a medical environment, need to take safety measures.
The BCG (Baceille-Calmette-Guerin) vaccination is given to most children during the early school years. The vaccine lasts for up to ten years. If you can’t remember the exact date since your last shot or it’s been close to ten years, it is highly recommended that you see your doctor before traveling abroad.
Hepatitis A is found in most of the world, excluding North America, Western Europe (save Portugal), and Australasia. It is a relatively low-risk liver disease, transmitted by drinking contaminated water. If you know you are traveling to a location that is a high-risk area, immediately make inquiries about the local water supply. As long as you’re drinking clean or bottled water, you won’t be at risk. A one-time vaccination against Hep A offers protection for up to a year, while repeating the vaccine provides immunity of up to 25 years.
The best way to avoid contracting typhoid fever is to examine your food and water supply. The most effective way of preventing typhoid fever is ensuring that what you eat and drink comes from a guaranteed sanitary source. Infecting a water supply with human waste is the most common method of spreading the disease. Rural areas of developing countries like Madagascar, Mauritania and Papua New Guinea, to name a few, are locations with a high risk.
Vaccines for typhoid are available in two forms: a pill and an injection. The injection is effective for up to three years, and the pill form will last one year. Both types of vaccines are highly effective against the disease. Even if you’ve had the vaccine, you should always ensure that your meals are cooked properly and your water is boiled for at least a minute before drinking when you’re traveling in the tropics.
There are two categories of meningitis: bacterial and viral. Viral meningitis is low risk and can be treated with nonprescription medicine, much like the cold and flu meds. On the other hand, bacterial meningitis is extremely dangerous and must be treated with strong antibiotics by a doctor right away. Early symptoms of bacterial meningitis include nausea, vomiting, neck ache and a rash that appears suddenly. These symptoms evolve very quickly into what could eventually be a life threatening coma, which is why receiving treatment quickly is so important.
Meningitis vaccinations are available and are quite effective in preventing several of these strains. The best way to circumvent contracting the disease is to stay away from crowded places in areas known for occurrences of meningitis, as it is only spread by close contact with contagious people. The primary risk area is in Africa’s meningitis belt, from Senegal to Ethiopia.
If you’re going to travel and are expecting to be handling or spending time around potentially rabid animals, it’s unquestionably crucial to be vaccinated for rabies, wherever in the world you’re going.
This neurological disease can be fatal and is spread by animals carrying the virus in their saliva. Even if you have been vaccinated, if you are bitten by a rabid dog, cat, bat, raccoon, etc. you will need to have repeat injections immediately after washing your wound thoroughly and cleaning it with alcohol.
Cholera is a water-borne disease that flourishes in areas where basic sanitation levels are not good enough. Regions where cholera is prevalent are areas struck by natural disasters, subjected to political wars, makeshift camps for refugees, and urban slums. These are conventional examples of where to be wary of the disease.
Travelers who are going abroad as relief workers, or someone just looking for a genuine encounter in a developing country, need to be cautious of this risk. The information on risk factors should be readily available from the tourist website of the country you are visiting or by making inquiries with local travel agents.
There is an oral vaccine available that will protect you for up to two years. This same vaccine also protects you against traveler’s diarrhea and other stomach virus.
Schistosomiasis is more commonly known as Bilharzia. The Schistosoma worm, a parasite which lives in bodies of water like lakes, dams, waterfalls, and rivers, is the cause of the disease. There is good news, however: its occurrence is quite rare and regions affected by it usually provide some kind of public warning.
Africa, South East Asia, the Middle East, and parts of the Caribbean are the highest risk areas. It’s essential to be aware of the disease: if you aren’t sure, find out if the region’s water supply has ever been infected. Schistosomiasis is easily curable and just as easily prevented. The following preventative measures will help to ensure you don’t contact Bilharzia:
- Check to see if the water source is safe by asking the travel agent, the tourist information bureau, or the area natives
- Boil your drinking water before drinking
- Drink bottled water whenever you can
- Ensure you towel off properly after swimming
Japanese B Encephalitis
Southeast Asia is the most common region to find Japanese B Encephalitis. It is transmitted in much the same way as malaria, by mosquitoes breeding in rice fields. For travelers wanting to explore the rural parts of Japan, it’s always best to first check with the local tourist board how serious the risk is. Encephalitis can be rather severe if you are infected, although the disease is quite rare. Ixiaro, a new vaccine, is available and provides up to two years’ immunity from the disease.
Included in almost every childhood vaccination program around the world, the Polio vaccine will mitigate any risk of contracting polio in high risk zones. Nigeria and parts of India are the only places where it is still common today. Consult your doctor before going to any of those destinations, if you’re not sure whether or not you’ve had the correct shots.
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