You take risks when you travel, including the risk of so-called ‘Montezuma’s revenge’. Too much time on the toilet is a small price to pay for adventure — but that’s the very least of your worries.
1. Zika: Scourge of the Americas
A few years ago, the Zika virus halted travel to parts of South America and the Caribbean, where the illness ran rampant. The virus spreads through the bite of the Aedes mosquito, which is also responsible for transmitting chikungunya and dengue.
What makes Zika so insidious is the fact that mosquitoes are common pests. Who isn’t bitten during vacation? The virus presents with a rash, which often appears on the palms. Other symptoms include fever, conjunctivitis, and sore joints. They usually hit within the first few days of infection, and will almost certainly show up within the week. During that first week, the symptoms are mild. Caught early, Zika is easy enough to manage with care.
Its true terror lies in its effect on unborn children. A woman shouldn’t travel to a country with Zika outbreaks for at least a year before she intends to get pregnant. Pregnant women should not travel to places with large Zika transmissions at all. The virus can result in malformations of the congenital nervous system and microcephaly.
2. Travel in the Time of Cholera
In spite of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s eloquent way with words, there is nothing romantic about cholera. The only positive thing one can say about it is that it’s nowhere near as deadly as it once was, mostly thanks to the inventions of antibiotics and Pepto Bismol. Cholera is more of a risk in areas of Asia and Africa, but any location with below-average sanitation is at risk.
In the main, the disease doesn’t seem that bad. Diarrhea is the most common symptom, and it will hurt badly enough to make you wish you had stayed at home. Fever and vomiting are likely, as well. The good news is that cholera, again, isn’t as deadly as it once was. The bad news is that it can still prove fatal. Dehydration is the biggest worry. You have to drink as much water as possible.
There is a vaccine for cholera. The only problem is that its success and usefulness are both under dispute. Some medical experts suggest that it’s not more than 50 percent effective. The best way to avoid the disease is to drink bottled water and avoid uncooked or undercooked food like the plague. (And don’t get me started about the plague.)
3. Dengue Fever Fundamentals
Remember dengue? Let’s once more thank the Aedes mosquito for this dreadful disease. Throughout the communities in Asia and Africa in which it’s found, dengue fever is also known as "bonecrusher disease" or “break-bone fever.” Fortunately, nothing will happen to your bones if you catch it. It will just feel that way.
As the name implies, the disease initially presents with a fever. Soon enough, that’s joined by aching joints, muscle pain, and a raging headache that may make you want to crush your skull — maybe that’s the reason behind the alternative name.
It’s a tropical disease. Mosquitoes thrive in tropical environments, so while dengue is common in under-developed areas, it also shows up in places like Singapore.
4. The ABs of Hepatitis
Hepatitis A appears in developing countries, such as parts of Latin America, Mexico, sections of Africa, and India. It’s a liver infection that’s transmitted when you consume food or water that’s been contaminated. You can also catch it through contact with someone who has it. It’s hardly ever fatal, but symptoms begin with nausea and fever, plus you’re likely to notice jaundice — a yellowing of the complexion and the whites of the eyes. It may last for just a week, but it can go on for several months.
Hepatitis B is found in the same places, along with the Middle East and a few Pacific Islands. It is much worse but more difficult to catch. It transmits through shared bodily fluids, shared needles, or blood contact with someone who’s infected. Hepatitis B can damage your liver to the point of cirrhosis and may even result in liver cancer. There is a vaccine, but you need to get it more than six months before you travel to an area with a high number of outbreaks.
5. Malaria: Another Mosquito Malady
Malaria is relatively easy to prevent, but it involves taking quinine before and during your vacation — and after, probably, because you may catch it anyway. Like other mosquito-borne diseases, it presents with fever, headaches, vomiting, and chills. Found in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, the nighttime female mosquito carries malaria, but only if she has been infected by Plasmodium, the parasite responsible for the illness. Mosquito netting over your bed is helpful, along with repellent that contains DEET.
Preventative care and proactive measures will help you avoid the majority of illnesses from which travelers typically suffer. Pack plenty of mosquito repellent, don’t drink the water, and mind that all your meat’s thoroughly cooked, and you’ll likely be fine.