The most common health problems for travelers to Africa are not exotic tropical diseases. The most common causes of illness, injury, and death in travelers are:
Cardiac disease and road traffic accidents
Older travelers are advised to mind your stress levels and exertion if you have underlying cardiac disease. Younger travelers should wear your seatbelts and avoid motorcycle taxis (or at least wear a helmet). Motorcycle taxis are a fun and convenient way to get through the traffic but they are also very effective femur-fracture machines. If you insist on using them make sure you have travel health insurance that includes air medevac.
It is endemic throughout the continent but the risk varies hugely as per your residential environment. Big, well screened houses on the tops of hills with few inhabitants are low risk, as are expensive air conditioned hotel rooms. Small houses in congested areas, hostels, low budget hotels, game parks, and the village hut, are high risk. Take your prescribed antimalarials and use your mosquito net. When you take your antimalarials perfectly your risk for malaria disease is almost none. Your risk goes up when you don’t take your antimalarials correctly, or you don’t take them at all.
There are no recorded cases of Yellow Fever disease in Africa since the 1970’s but some countries are considered endemic anyway by all authorities (WHO, CDC etc). Currently the actual individual risk to travelers is almost none though it is required (with Yellow Book/certificate) for all travelers. It is recommended by all travel medicine authorities for all travelers entering Africa who are above the age of one year.
The following are the most important vaccinations for travelers to Africa... in this order:
Hepatitis A + B, typhoid and perhaps influenza, for the short term business type travelers.
Add to that: yellow fever, meningococcal, and rabies for the longer term, rural living, and/or low-budget traveler.
Schistosomiasis / bilharzia
Transmission is through intact skin that comes in contact with infected fresh water. Schistosomiasishasno prevention other than avoiding the water (swimming pools are ok!) Most people infected with schistosomiasis do not feel unwell therefore the best advice is: make sure you take the treatment two months after your last water exposure.
Travelers Diarrhea (TD)
This is the most common infectious problem for travelers in Africa. Very few will escape unscathed. TD ranges from mildly annoying diarrhea to raging incapacitating dysentery. Come with your Cipro / Norfen / Azithro and treat yourself if you have fever with diarrhea and/or vomiting. This depends upon effective drinking water sterilization and ensuring food is uncontaminated or cooked thoroughly. Personal hygiene when eating and drinking is also important including hand washing prior to eating and using sterile plates, cups and utensils.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDS)
If the traveler indulges in casual sex the risk of infection with a sexually transmitted disease is very high. Gonorrhea, Chlamydia and syphilis may cause serious long-term disability, especially if treatment is delayed. Chancroid and Lymphogranulonum venerium are a serious risk in poorer countries and common sex workers. Hepatitis B and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS, are also spread sexually. High proportions of sex workers or prostitutes are infected. Large numbers of the population in many parts of Africa are infected and AIDS is common. Use condoms always: or better still, abstain.
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