The 5 Most Common Travel Diseases That Can Be Fatal (And What to Do If You Bring One Home)

2. Schistomiasis

Also known as bilharzia, this fast-appearing (and infecting) water-borne disease is caused by parasitic fluke worms infiltrating your bloodstream. While it may seem hard to catch — you’ve got to be exposed to a water source (including untreated drinking water) where an infected person has had a bowel movement consisting of the parasite’s eggs, which have then hatched and been released as larvae by a snail — it’s much more common than you think. In 2013, close to 40 million people across 78 countries were infected with these squirmy blood parasites. So, you may want to rethink that whitewater rafting trip along the Zambezi (though it is unbelievably beautiful) as highest risk areas are large water sources, like rivers in various regions of Africa. However, travelers to infected parts of South America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean are also at risk.

What to Do: If you are exposed to contaminated water, there’s nothing outside of luck of the draw to prevent these worms from invading your body, but if you develop itchy skin, a rash on water-exposed parts of your body, cough, fever, or muscle aches, you can try to put the heat on to get rid of them. Five minutes in a hot bath of at least 122 degrees Fahrenheit should do it — or a two-day medicinal treatment.

3. Lyme Disease

Those of you who watched The Real World: Seattle got one of the first glimpses of this then hard-to-diagnose (and still hard-to-treat) disease that was also fairly unknown to the general public. Unfortunately, thanks to blood-thirsty ticks and medical discoveries over time, the number of known Lyme cases has skyrocketed to up to three million reported cases each year. It is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States, with concentrated occurrences in the northeast states. Outside of the U.S., it can also lurk inside ticks found in forest-laden areas (read: campsites) across Europe and Asia. Most initial symptoms are flu-like aches, fever, chills, headache, and a tell-tale bulls-eye rash that can appear anywhere on the body.

What to Do: There is no vaccine for Lyme disease, so you’ll just have to be vigilant about avoiding forested areas and checking yourself for ticks if you do find yourself in the woods. If you discover a tick, remove it immediately (holding a hot matchstick to it can do the trick), try to bag it or snap a selfie with it to show the doctor), watch for symptoms, and make an appointment ASAP so your doctor can perform a blood antibody test. Treatment includes a dose of strong antibiotics. Long-term symptoms of untreated Lyme disease can include inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, Arthritic-like joint pain, Bell’s palsy, and irregular heartbeat. 

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