You can get a little sunburned, but you really can’t get a little gored or a little trampled, which is maybe why you’ve ruled out ever running with the bulls in Pamplona.
More your speed perhaps is the frisky puppy on the grounds of your hotel. He’s so cute and look, he just nipped your finger. But Frisky wasn’t rolling with a pack of wild dogs and you’re not in a country where canine rabies is prevalent, so it’s no big deal, right?
Well here’s where it gets a little scary. Unless your hotel happens to be in Antarctica, which is the only place on earth where you can’t get rabies, it can be a big deal.
“Rabies is an issue we feel strongly educating people about,” says Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky, M.D., travel health expert for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because “inevitably it’s a fatal disease” once clinical signs develop, and according to the CDC Yellow Book, “children are considered at higher risk because of their tendencies to play with animals and to not report bites.”
Immediately cleansing a bite or potentially contaminated scratch with soap and water helps reduce the risk of rabies. And if you’re heading to rabies-endemic areas of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, the CDC recommends a pre-exposure (before you’re bitten or scratched) rabies vaccination, which would help make a potential post-exposure shot more effective.
One wrinkle with post-exposure rabies vaccines, Kozarsky says, is that they’re not always readily available in parts of the world where they’re needed most. Maria Caceres, senior manager of assistance for travel insurance provider Seven Corners, concurs that insufficient medication can exacerbate the danger, recalling an instance in Africa where “we had to evacuate one member after being bitten by a bat because there was no rabies vaccination available.”
What’s under your skin?
You’ve heard of rabies, but what about a parasitic infection known as schistosomiasis? If you happen to swim in a freshwater lake, stream, or river in sub-Saharan Africa, Southern China, and parts of South America, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean, you may not be alone in the water. It’s possible you’ll encounter infected snails releasing larvae that can penetrate your skin and cause a rash known as “swimmer’s itch.”From there the larvae can develop into worms that will in turn produce eggs that can travel to such organs as your kidney, liver, or bladder, causing long-term damage over a period of years.
“People can become ill after six weeks after being exposed,” Kozarsky says, possibly developing a fever or respiratory, gastrointestinal, or urinary tract issues, but “most people who are infected have no symptoms at all.” If you’ve been exposed to fresh water in the indicated destinations, a blood test upon your return home would reveal signs of the infection, which could then be treated with a fairly benign drug, Kozarsky says.
Death is in the air
Demonstrations cropped up around Honduras when the military ousted President Manuel Zelaya, which Sound Traveler publisher Gregory Benchwick acknowledges “doesn't help with the danger factor” in the country, nor does the fact that Honduras is “home to the second-largest swath of rainforest in the Americas,” he says, which includes “the Mosquito Coast, a hot spot for malaria, dengue fever, and a nasty little foot fungus known locally as masamora.”
The CDC recommends anti-malarial pills if you’re exploring this region, Benchwick says, but suggests that “the best way to avoid malaria is to use a bug spray with DEET and wear long sleeves and long pants. You'll also want to bring water tablets, since bottled water is not widely available, foot powder to avoid fungus, and a hearty sense of adventure.”
Like many countries, China is aggressively screening arriving passengers for H1N1, or Swine Flu, perhaps too aggressively. The U.S. Department of State recently “had to go in and talk to Chinese officials about the conditions under which people were being quarantined,” says Michelle Bernier-Toth, director of the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services. Quarantined passengers were being “put into hotels or hospitals that were inadequate,” she says, which in some cases meant unsuitable food and water and unsanitary conditions.
Bernier-Toth points to a State Department alert on China’s quarantine measuresnoting that some passengers were quarantined for up to a week if they were sitting near “another traveler with fever or flu-like symptoms...even if [those passengers showed] no symptoms themselves.”
Parents may want to brace themselves for this next part. The alert also indicates that “children have been separated from their parents during quarantine because only the parent or the child tested positive for 2009-H1N1 or exhibited symptoms. Travelers are advised that Chinese health authorities have not issued a country-wide policy on keeping family members together in quarantine.”
By the way, if you’re heading overseas it’s wise to sign up for State Department e-mail alerts and register your trip before you go so your embassy or consulate in your destination knows you’re there.
And the most dangerous creature is…you
During a multi-country visit to West Africa, VirtualTourist.com member juliogg encountered many dangers. Some were spelled out, as in Togo, where a large sign read “Danger: The hotel is not responsible for any guest who steps out to the beach.” And at times the dangers were less obvious, such as the extortion and intimidation he found at “the border crossing into Nigeria and the 44 military stops between the Nigeria border and Lagos.”
That said about the destination, juliogg says one of the biggest dangers he found on the Africa trip was tourist arrogance, especially when it came to negotiating. “Certain things you shouldn’t haggle on, and safe transportation is one of them,” he says, pointing to instances when taxi drivers named one price and his travel companion tried to cut it to less than half, haggling “so much that we ended up with the [worst] taxi there was that broke down twice,” on one occasion overheating, so that he and his friend had to wait for the driver to “grab water from a ditch to put in the radiator.”
Speaking of safety and that matter of a little sunburn, Virtual Tourist member and Sydney resident lynnehamman notes that “skin cancer rates are highest in Australia. But does everyone use protection? Come to Australia, enjoy our beaches and sunshine, but…be responsible.”