This condition occurs following heavy sweating and excessive fluid loss with inadequate replacement of fluids and salt, and is particularly common in hot climates when taking unaccustomed exercise before full acclimatisation. Symptoms include headache, dizziness and tiredness. Dehydration is already happening by the time you feel thirsty – aim to drink sufficient water to produce pale, diluted urine. Self-treatment: fluid replacement with water and/or fruit juice, and cooling by cold water and fans. The treatment of the salt-loss component consists of consuming salty fluids such as soup, and adding a little more salt to foods than usual.
Heat exhaustion is a precursor to the much more serious condition of heatstroke. In this case there is damage to the sweating mechanism, with an excessive rise in body temperature; irrational and hyperactive behaviour; and eventually loss of consciousness and death. Rapid cooling by spraying the body with water and fanning is ideal. Emergency fluid and electrolyte replacement is usually also required by intravenous drip.
Insect bites & stings
Mosquitoes might not always carry malaria or dengue fever, but they (and other insects) can cause irritation and infected bites. To avoid these, take the same precautions as you would for avoiding malaria. Use DEET-based insect repellents. Excellent clothing treatments are also available - mosquitoes that land on treated clothing will die.
Bee and wasp stings cause real problems only to those who have a severe allergy to the stings (anaphylaxis.) If you are one of these people, carry an EpiPen – an adrenaline (epinephrine) injection, which you can give yourself. This could save your life.
Sandflies are found near many African beaches. They usually only cause a nasty itchy bite but can carry a rare skin disorder, cutaneous leishmaniasis. Prevention of bites with DEET-based repellents is sensible.
Scorpions are frequently found in arid or dry climates. They can cause a painful bite that is sometimes life-threatening. If you are bitten by a scorpion, seek immediate medical assistance.
Bed bugs are often found in hostels and cheap hotels. Bites lead to very itchy, lumpy skin. Spraying the mattress with crawling-insect killer then changing the bedding will get rid of them.
Scabies is also frequently found in cheap accommodation. These tiny mites live in the skin, particularly between the fingers. They cause an intensely itchy rash. The itch is easily treated with malathion and permethrin lotion from a pharmacy; other members of the household also need treatment to avoid spreading scabies, even if they do not show any symptoms.
Basically, avoid getting bitten! Do not walk barefoot, and don’t stick your hand into holes or cracks. However, 50% of those bitten by venomous snakes are not actually injected with poison (envenomed). If bitten by a snake, do not panic. Immobilise the bitten limb with a splint (such as a stick) and apply a bandage over the site, with firm pressure – similar to bandaging a sprain. Do not apply a tourniquet, or cut or suck the bite. Get medical help as soon as possible so antivenom can be given if needed.
Never drink tap water unless it has been boiled, filtered or chemically disinfected (such as with iodine tablets). Never drink from streams, rivers and lakes. It’s also best to avoid drinking from pumps and wells – some do bring pure water to the surface, but the presence of animals can still contaminate supplies.
At least 80% of the African population relies on traditional medicine, often because conventional Western-style medicine is too expensive, because of prevailing cultural attitudes and beliefs, or simply because in some cases it works. It might also be because there’s often no other choice – a World Health Organization survey found that there is one medical doctor for every 70,000 people in Kenya, but a traditional healer for every 250 people.
Although some traditional African remedies seem to work on illnesses such as malaria, sickle cell anaemia, high blood pressure and some AIDS symptoms, most African healers tend to learn their art by apprenticeship, so education (and consequently the application of knowledge) is inconsistent and unregulated.
Rather than attempting to stamp out traditional practices, or simply pretend they aren’t happening, a positive step taken by Kenya is the regulation of traditional medicine by creating healers’ associations and offering courses on such topics as sanitary practices. It remains unlikely in the short term that even a basic level of conventional Western-style medicine will be made available to all the people of Africa. Traditional medicine will almost certainly continue to be practised widely.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Blood clots can form in the legs during flights, chiefly because of prolonged immobility. This formation of clots is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and the longer the flight, the greater the risk. Although most blood clots are reabsorbed uneventfully, some might break off and travel through the blood vessels to the lungs, where they could cause life-threatening complications. The chief symptom of DVT is swelling or pain of the foot, ankle or calf, usually but not always on just one side. When a blood clot travels to the lungs, it could cause chest pain and breathing difficulty. Travellers with any of these symptoms should immediately seek medical attention. To prevent the development of DVT on long flights you should walk about the cabin, perform isometric compressions of the leg muscles (e.g. contract the leg muscles while sitting), drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol.
Jet lag and motion sickness
If you’re crossing more than five time zones you could suffer jet lag, resulting in insomnia, fatigue, malaise or nausea. To avoid jet lag try drinking plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic) and eating light meals. Upon arrival, get exposure to natural sunlight and readjust your schedule (for meals, sleep etc) as soon as possible. Antihistamines are usually the first choice for treating motion sickness. Their main side effect is drowsiness. A herbal alternative is ginger (in the form of tea, biscuits or crystals).
You can buy tampons and pads in most cities and major towns from pharmacies or supermarkets. Prices are about the same as in Europe (from where they’re imported) but you seldom have a choice of type or brand. They’re rarely found in shops away from the main towns, so you might want to bring supplies if you’re travelling further afield.
Taken from Relocation Africa's African Relocation Guides.
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