What You Need to Know on Your Visit to Africa
Africa is shrouded in mystery. It's a continent full of varied flora, wildlife and biomes. It is an alluring place for the western world to want to explore, to vacation and to discover the roots of all human civilization. While a traveler can have the time of their life in Africa, there are many dangers to be aware of and prepare for.
There are many diseases in Africa that are lethal to the unprepared traveler. While some can be easily avoided by simple actions, such as washing your food before you eat it; others require a little more effort such as immunization. Be warned that there are still some diseases in Africa that have no cure.
Transmission by Insects
Malaria is the most notorious communicable disease in Africa. It is spread by mosquitos. The disease is carried in the saliva of infected female mosquitos and is introduced into the host when the mosquito feeds on their blood.
Symptoms of Malaria include headaches, fever, vomiting, joint pains and, in severe cases, can cause the infected individual to slip into a coma or die.
Prevention of Malaria
Mosquito nets around beds and cots will repel mosquitos while asleep. In addition, the use of powerful bug repellent sprays can keep the threat of mosquitos at bay.
There is currently no vaccine for Malaria, but there are prescription drugs that can help prevent and cure malaria. It is recommended you speak to your doctor about these medications before venturing into Africa.
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Dengue Fever is also transmittable via mosquito bite. Its symptoms include headaches, muscle pains, joint pains, fever, skin rash and, in severe cases, low blood pressure and bleeding.
Prevention of Dengue Fever
There is no cure or vaccine as of yet. The most effective form of prevention is to use mosquito nets and bug spray at night.
Treatment for Dengue Fever is generally rehydration via IV and blood transfusions. Most infections, however, are mild and do not need special treatment.
Transmission through Water and Food
Cholera is a food and waterborne bacteria that can be deadly. Symptoms include chronic diarrhea and vomiting. This can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. If left untreated if can lead to death.Credit: By Sertion (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Prevention of Cholera
The bacteria can be destroyed with heat. Proper cooking of food and proper boiling of water prior to consumption will kill the bacteria. When possible drink only bottled beverages and skin fruits and vegetables yourself under sanitary conditions.
If infected, seek medical attention. Oral and intravenous rehydration will be required. There are also several antibiotics that can be prescribed by a doctor to quicken recovery. A vaccine is available but only proves to be about 50% effective in resisting infection.
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Hepatitis A is a disease that affects the liver. Its transmission stems from poor sanitation conditions of food and water. Its symptoms resemble that of the flu virus: fever, abdominal pain, fatigue and nausea.
Prevention of Hepatitis A
The vaccination for Hepatitis A is very effective and is the best route to avoid infection. Implementing proper sanitation of food and water (cooking and boiling thoroughly) will kill any traces of the virus before ingestion.
Transmission through Contact
Hepatitis B is transmitted by exposure to body fluids from an infected individual. Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dark urine and mild fevers. The infected individual could then develop jaundice. People who are chronically infected with Hepatitis B are at a higher risk of developing liver cancer and cirrhosis.
Prevention of Hepatitis B
The vaccine for Hepatitis B is effective and is recommended. Safe sexual contact, sterilization of medical and tattooing equipment and screening blood before transfusions are all ways to significantly reduce exposure to the Hepatitis B virus.
Most cases of Hep B clear on their own but the administration of antiviral medication can hasten this process.Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
Tuberculosis is an often lethal, mycobacterial disease that attacks the lungs. Symptoms include coughing with bloody phlegm, weight loss, fatigue and fever. The infection can then spread to other organs causing a myriad of other symptoms.
Tuberculosis is spread through the aerosol droplets of infected individuals when they speak, spit, sneeze or cough. Inhalation of these droplets can lead to infection.
Prevention of Tuberculosis
Vaccination is the preferred method of prevention. Keeping in well ventilated areas and keeping a distance from people who might be infected are also important components of prevention.
If you think you might be infected, seek immediate medical attention. Treatment includes prolonged and often varied use of antibiotics to eradicate the Tuberculosis cells.
Be aware of the various diseases in Africa and take the proper precautions, but do not let the fear of infection hinder your travels. Africa is an amazing, beautiful continent with sights and experiences you will not find elsewhere.