The risk of contracting disease in Africa is greatly exaggerated within the stereotypical images of Western media. In truth, the vast majority of illnesses are preventable if travellers take proper precautions. Many of these precautions involve familiarizing yourself with area-specific health risks and remedies, just the same way a local would.
To prepare you for health threats and avoid getting sick in Africa, here are some helpful tips that can help you think more like a local:
Research Health Threats and Needed Immunizations for Your Area
Your first step is looking up the possible health risks of the country you are visiting and adjusting accordingly. You will definitely need your mandatory vaccinations and documents to confirm them, but you may also wish to get some of the non-mandated vaccines based on where you travel. For example, South Africa does not require a hepatitis A vaccine or typhoid vaccine for entry, but you may wish to get one to prevent contracting debilitating diseases during your trip that can happen from incidental exposure.
Your health-conscious practices can also account for individual environmental risks. If you are entering a region with tsetse flies, for example, you will most definitely want to wear long clothing and bring plenty of repellant to avoid getting bites that can cause sleeping sickness.
Practice Good Hygiene and Be Wary of Certain Food Vendors
The easiest way to get sick in Africa is to eat food that has been handled improperly, including by yourself. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before eating any meal. Only purchase meals from established restaurants rather than street vendors. Unless it is provided by a hotel or high-end restaurant, never put ice in your drink or eat frozen ice treats.
Similarly, drink only sealed bottled water and avoid cooking with tap water unless it has been both boiled and filtered.
Raw foods like salads should be avoided unless they have a washed outer peel, such as a banana or apple.
Never Walk Barefoot
Always wear closed-toed shoes in cities or populous rural areas, and never walk around completely barefoot. Otherwise, you could pick up bacteria or parasites through the soles of your feet.
Getting dehydrated tires you out and weakens your immune system. Stay healthy and fighting-fit by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
Stock Up on Local Medicines
Not only are many local medicines cheaper, they are also frequently more effective at treating local-specific conditions. For instance, in Egypt they sell Antinal and Streptoquin pills with formulations specifically created to address local bacteria that can cause diarrhoea. You can also buy Coartem or other anti-malaria pills if you intend to travel in a malaria zone.
Lack of sleep weakens your immune system more than nearly any type of exposure. Even though you will be tempted to cram as much as possible into the day, get rested and go to sleep early so that you can catch as much as you can without depriving yourself of needed sleep.
Looking for Other Advice to Avoid Getting Sick in Africa?
Our safari experts have spent years living in various locales and visiting countries all throughout the African continent. If you want health tips tailored to your specific safari travel plans, you can reach out to us to learn more. Make sure to ask an experienced travel doctor or medical professional afterwards so you can combine their recommendations with ours in the safest way possible.
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa