Mar 29

Unwanted Travel Souvenirs – Illnesses Aquired Abroad

by in Guest Posts

Everyone who travels should be aware of the possibility of contracting some kind of illness.  Some parasites don’t cause symptoms immediately, so even if you feel sick weeks after a trip to Mexico, you should let your doctor know to test for things you may have picked up down here.

I Ate What?

Having spent extended periods of time in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, I have firsthand experience with several illnesses that are common in those areas.  I can also debunk the myth that locals are immune to them.  The first time I had a parasite while living in Mexico, it was my local friends who laughed and told me what to do.  It turns out that most of them took “the cure” several times a year.  In fact, whenever they would start to feel lousy, they would first drop a stool sample off at the lab to rule out “bichos”, the Spanish word for bugs.  The truth is, we’re always full of parasites, but most of them don’t bug us.  The ones that cause problems are usually introduced by poor sanitation.  For example, I had giardia while living in Cozumel, and got it from eating or drinking something contaminated with poop.  It makes it really hard to go out to eat after finding that out.  During the 6 years I lived there, I had to deal with amoebas a couple of times, and one brutal case of food poisoning that landed me in a clinic hooked up to IV fluids on Christmas day.

The Only Good Mosquito Is A Dead One

Honduras offered a different kind of parasite, carried by mosquitoes.  Fortunately, the malaria that is common in this area is curable with medication that kills the blood-borne parasite.  During my 5 years on the island of Roatan, just about everyone I knew suffered through several bouts of malaria.  It was the island version of the flu. The difficulty was in diagnosing it because the parasites go through dormant phases, so patients have to get to the clinic for a blood test when they feel their worst to catch the little buggers in action.

Dengue, also known as Break-bone Fever, is also common on the Bay Islands.  I watched my husband writhing on the couch for weeks suffering from that illness.  Also carried by mosquitoes, this is a virus that doesn’t have a treatment or a vaccine.  Symptoms include deep muscle and joint pain, fever, headaches, and a rash.  This is an awful virus that you just have to suffer through with Tylenol and a lot of Gatorade.  The doctor who diagnosed my husband told him that a subsequent bout of dengue would be much, much worse, even fatal.  Fortunately, there were no cases on the island of the really serious dengue hemorrhagic fever, which causes bleeding, blood plasma leakage, and the lowering of blood platelet levels.

Retro Virus, Bringing Back Measles

A virus that is preventable by vaccine yet has been showing up recently in visitors to Mexico is measles.  While measles is very uncommon in Canada and the United States, those considering a trip south should check to make sure they have had these shots.  It is highly contagious, so those coming home infected with the virus can be responsible for spreading it to other unvaccinated individuals.  In 2011, there was an outbreak in Quebec resulting in 750 cases.  Measles symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red, watery eyes, and rash.  Usually the rash begins on the face before spreading to the body.  Healthy people generally recover in about 10 days without suffering further complications, but those with compromised immune systems are at much higher risk.  Symptoms don’t usually show up until one to three weeks after exposure.

L Evans is a professional specialized in medical and health SEO in Latin America. She writes for several hospitals focused on medical tourism.

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