Tips for Staying Healthy While in Africa

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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.

Stay Hydrated

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.

Get Sleep!

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

 

Updated Information for African Immunizations

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Part of the appeal of travelling to a foreign country lies in exposing yourself to new experiences. Unfortunately a necessary consequence of this goal is that, in addition to experiencing new sights, sounds and sensations, you will also experience new disease risks that your body is not used to.

Fear of outbreaks among countries also drives them to mandate that foreigners get certain vaccines to protect against the spread of infectious diseases. To help protect yourself and the people you are going to visit from the possible dangers of serious diseases, you should get most or all of the following African immunizations before you travel.

Hepatitis A&B

The risk of contracting hepatitis A is high in most African countries because of inconsistent food preparation and hygiene practices. No matter which country you visit, the CDC highly recommends that you receive a series of hepatitis A immunizations, which come in a series of two shots taken six months apart.

Hepatitis B infections are much less common, but still possible, especially if you are engaging in extended contact with poorer, rural populations in Africa, such as on mission work.

Even with the vaccines, take care when eating and drinking abroad. Contaminated food and water is a common source of hep A and B. Eat only at established restaurants, hotels and other such permanent places that serve food, as opposed to food carts or unregulated businesses that utilize an open kitchen. Try to drink only bottled water, and avoid using ice in your drinks or eating frozen treats like shaved ice.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a mosquito-transmitted disease that can cause severe liver failure. Sub-saharan African countries like D.R. Congo, Uganda and western regions of Kenya are the only areas that carry a risk of yellow fever, as this CDC map shows. You will be required to have proof of immunization if you enter these countries or if you enter other countries after having travelled to affected areas.

In addition to vaccination, you should take steps to prevent mosquito bites during your travels, such as applying repellent, wearing long clothing and sleeping under a net.

Meningitis

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection that attacks the brain as well as the central nervous system. Countries in Africa’s “meningitis belt” of Sub-Saharan Africa, including South Sudan and western areas of Ethiopia, carry the highest risk of infection.

Even if you are not travelling to these specific countries, a meningitis vaccine is recommended to people of all ages throughout their life to avoid a serious, life-threatening infection.

Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection most often caused by eating contaminated food or drink. Vaccination against typhoid fever is recommended for all travellers regardless of their destination.

Additional Recommended African Immunizations

These vaccines are generally recommended to be up-to-date for all people whether they are travelling or staying home:

  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Polio
  • Rabies

Additionally, you should take precautions against biting insects in order to avoid diseases like malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, sleeping sickness and others.

You can learn more about the recommended vaccines and disease prevention methods based on your destination country by consulting the CDC’s travel immunization portal and also by contacting us for our expert advice.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa