Dear Dr. Dave & Dr. Dee,
My family is considering taking an exotic trip to South Africa. However, when I mentioned this to a coworker, he said that he would never go because of all the diseases that we could contract. Do you think that he paranoid or just jealous that we are able to go on such a trip?
Dear Second opinion,
Travel abroad provides an enriching and broadening experience. But, some people such as your coworker may not be comfortable with change or the unknown.
Any travel, whether overseas or even in your own country requires planning ahead for health and safety precautions. The Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) and World Health Organization (www.who.int) provide up-to-date information on worldwide health issues, outbreaks, and warnings. Many countries require immunizations before entering their country.
There is a risk of malaria in South Africa, as well as in many other countries around the world. But, malaria can be prevented by seeing your physician for a prescription anti-malarial drug and by protecting yourself against mosquito bites.
The CDC recommends these precautions for protection against mosquito bites ("Don't Let Mosquito Bites Ruin Tropical Travel This Winter," 2008):
1. Pay special attention to mosquito protection between dusk and dawn.
This is when the type of mosquito whose bite transmits malaria is active.
2. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
3. Use insect repellents that contain DEET (diethylmethyltoluamide). Read and follow the directions and precautions on the product label.
4. When using sunscreen, apply it before insect repellent.
5. Consider applying permethrin to the clothing that you will wear.
6. Sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net, especially if you are not staying in a screened or air-conditioned housing.
In addition, the CDC recommends these other precautions to stay healthy:
1. Wash hands often with soap and water.
2. Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. If this is not possible, make water safer by BOTH filtering through an absolute 1-micron or less filter AND adding iodine tablets to the filtered water. Absolute 1-micron filters are found in camping/outdoor supply stores.
3. Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.
4. If you visit an area where there is risk for malaria, take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after travel, as directed (see your doctor for a prescription).
For more information, see www.cdc.gov