Friday, 10 January 2014

You can die in Africa

There's a lot of things that we take for granted in our day to day lives. One is that the risk of getting really, really sick and dying from where and how we live is small. Africa is not like this.

They have a lot of diseases in Africa that kill a lot of people. For many, there are vaccines, but you and I don't need them because the incidences of, say, yellow fever, is virtually zero where I live.

For our upcoming trip, we need a bunch of vaccines and prophalaxes, and of course, since most are not needed here, they're not covered by Canadian health insurance. However, many doctors and the Provincial Health Clinics themselves have travel clinics and specialists that you can pay to access. This is good, because we need info on how to manage the risks of:

  • Malaria
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Diphtheria, Polio & Tetanus (DPT vaccines are actually given here, and we got a booster last fall since we're at risk for tetanus in our volunteer work).
  • Typhoid fever
  • Meningitis
  • Yellow Fever
  • Cholera
  • Rabies
Malaria in particular is pretty rampant where we're going. So bad that at least 2 of the common treatments are now basically ineffective, as the malarial strains have gotten used to them and adapted.

Africa is also AIDS Central. In Zimbabwe, about 15% of people, or 1.2 MM, are infected. In South Africa, it's 17%, or 5.6 MM people. Namibia is 13%. Botswana is 23%. Canada, by the way, is 0.3%, with ~73,000 cases. Pretty sure avoiding this won't be an issue, though.

On top of this, there's other bugs and small nasties that can kill you, or at the very least, make you really sick. Tsetse flies (sleeping sickness). Putzi flies (Myiasis). Sandfleas.

But my personal favourite is bilharzia (also known as Schistosomiasis, which I guess is why people call it bilharzia). This nasty little parasite comes from the faeces of infected people getting into the water. There, it infects a snail. The snail then generates 100,000 parasite larvae per day for the rest of its life. These snails and the larvae can move around in the water, but can also be blown around by wind, so essentially no water is safe. Go swimming in slow moving water and you're at risk. The larvae are absorbed through your skin, make it to your liver, and do nothing but propagate more larvae for the rest of their lives. The new larvae that stay inside you grow up and lodge in your intestines, bowels and other fun places, making you sick as a dog and always tired. It takes ~6 weeks of this to get to the point where you can test for it and treat it.

On the bright side, shallow slow moving water is where you're likely to meet a crocodiles, and deeper slow moving water is where you find hippos, both of which are really good at killing you much faster than bilharzia.

So we're off to the travel clinic next week to find out what we need to do. We leave in 3½ months, and some of these vaccines need time to become effective.

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