Part of going to faraway, perhaps less civilized lands, is the need to prevent contracting a whole bunch of diseases. Where water is cloudy, where insects bite, where food is prepared with the same hands that wipe butts are places where harsh bacteria, viruses and other parasites concentrate and try to kill us all. Fortunately, this age where equally harsh drugs and a bit of mental preparation can be employed to see a traveler thrive in a less-than-health-conscious place.
Travel clinics are nice resources for health information on your destination, and places where you can find vaccines and disease fighting drugs. One thing that does come with visiting a travel clinic is a consultation from the travel physician. In my opinion, a consultation is a borderline time/money waster. My physician, asking where I would be traveling, produced maps of my destinations blotted through and through with red, indicating the extreme levels of lethal microbes and poor sanitation, and went through a list of maladies so long that there is no way I will remember them. Even Australia, a place which does not require any vaccines of visitors, was chock full of plague and rabies. The thing is, you can read about all the disease risk in Uganda (or anywhere) by reading a decent guide book, or by visiting the CDC travel site, and following their tips. In other words, the consultation is full of very useful information that you could have found somewhere else for free.
Vaccines and Pills
I went to a the other day to a travel clinic because I needed a vaccine against Yellow Fever. This is one of these killing viruses prevalent in equatorial Africa and South America. When traveling to these regions, it is often required to have an official vaccination record document of sorts in order to cross borders. I got me one of them too, because having an all encompassing stash of travel documents will help me look like I know what I am doing.
Also, I wanted a pile of anti-malaria drugs and nuclear antibiotics. My physician outlined the options of effective anti-malarials, and I chose the cheapskate option: an antiprotozoal called Doxycycline. This one has none of the psycho side effects of hallucinations and nightmares that come with Lariam, but does require a warm-up period and daily use due to its slow action time. In case of a wild bacterial infection, I picked out some Cipro (taken twice daily until diarrhea subsides).
To bolster my kit-o-drugs I also have some over-the-counter Imodium (for general, not bacterial diarrhea), some pepto-pink chewable things for upset stomach, and some Ibuprofen in case I do come down with some debilitating fever.
Sanitation and Smarts
Talking with a physician, visiting CDC websites, or reading a guide book, you will find plenty of helpful tips on personal conduct and sanitation that will help to keep you safe.
The Uganda guidebook in my lap, for example, gives recommendations not only on which vaccines to have updated and what sort of drugs to have on hand, but also tips on water, food and hygiene.
Water: Should be acquired in sealed bottles. Otherwise boil it, filter it, or purify it with iodine or chlorine. Do not allow ice in your drinks.
Food: The adage Peel it, Boil it, Cook it, or Forget it appears in many travel health texts. Wash and peel fresh fruits and veggies yourself. Cook the hell out of everything, or make sure what you are ordering comes to your table piping hot. Follow the lead of other expats who know the ropes as far as where to and where not to eat.
Hygiene: Wash your hands all the time, and keep your hands away from your face. Keep your mouth closed when you take a shower.
Wildlife: Stay away from mangy critters (duh). If insect borne illnesses are prominent, employ bug repellant and netting. Inspect your body for ticks and mites and things.
Bring a kit! Here is what is in mine:
- Iodine (anticeptic for purifying water and cleaning wounds)
- Tape and gauze (I like to invent my own bandages)
- Ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory)
- Imodium (anti-diarrhea)
- Ciprofloxacin (antibiotic)
- Doxycycline (anti-protozoal for malaria)
- Chewable stomach things (anti-upset-stomach)
- Soap or alcohol sanitizer
- Tweezers, little scissors
- ACE bandage
- Bug repellent
Having prepared my immune system, thought about health precautions, and having put together a decent health kit, I expect I will live. When traveling to less developed places, one must expect to have some bouts of maddening diarrhea, expect to have minor injuries, expect to be bitten by bugs. Planning and preparing, however, are what will allow you to live through it.