Health round-up

One concern on the road is always keeping healthy and avoiding any major illnesses.  We have been extremely fortunate on our travels, with few major incidents, and I thought it was worth sharing our experiences.

On the whole, we were a lot healthier than we ever were in the UK – the constant niggle of colds and flu were fortunately absent for the most part.  However, we were inflicted along the way, though fortunately nothing stopped the adventure.

Reaction to anti-malaria medication: Lariam

In Senegal, I finally realised that the depressed and anxious feelings I had were more than just travel fatigue – in fact, I was reacting to the anti-malaria medication that I was taking.  Read more about this on the post “Those darn anti-malarials”.


We were very fortunate in this case – we never contracted malaria during our travels, despite others in the vicinity catching it.  Either our anti-malaria medication really worked, or we were just extremely fortunate that the bites we had (a lot of them!) were not infected.  We were good about covering up the evenings, and used insect repellent, so it all helped.


Well, this was a huge surprise.  I had been fighting a sore throat for about a week in Botswana and into Nambia, and had no idea what it was.  Having never had tonsillitis as a child, I couldn’t quite fathom what was happening.  When I woke up one morning and couldn’t swallow properly, and it took an hour to drink a cup of tea, I realised that a visit to a doctor was in order.  He diagnosed it immediately, put me on a course of antibiotics, strong pain killers and a medicated mouthwash.  I was completely unfit to drive – the painkillers were incredible – and within a few days I was right as rain.


This is easier to identify after the fact.  Viking Explorer was unwell while in Katima Mulilio (Namibia) and Livingstone (Zambia) – just feeling a bit under the weather, nothing that we could really identify.  The ‘unwell’ symptoms seemed to disappear and reappear, and were accompanied by particularly odorous burps.   At the time we had no idea what it was, but a trip to the pharmacist in Livingstone resulted in a course of antibiotics and Viking Explorer came right.

African GirlChild then followed suit when crossing from Tanzania to Uganda.  The symptoms were slightly different: no potent burps, but stomach cramps and slightly upset stomach.  Eventually, a visit to the local pharmacist resulted in a course of anti-giardiasis treatment which seemed to clear up all ills.

Giardiasis is caused by cysts of the parasite Giardiaintestinalis which is carried in water.  Chemical treatments of water – chlorine or silver ions – do not kill the cysts; boiling does. For the rest of Uganda we bought bottled water or boiled water to prevent a re-occurance.

Malawi Bug

No idea what this one was.  We had stayed at the Mabuya Backpackers in Lilongwe, which was a hive of activity and the starting and finishing point for many backpackers in the area.  As a result, I am sure that there were many bugs being carried around by other travellers.  Both Viking Explorer and Tom (cyclist from succumbed to the bug on the last night we all stayed in Lilongwe.  Viking Explorer was generally under the weather, suffered a fever and runny nose for many days until we visited a clinic in Northern Malawi.  A dose of antibiotics took a week to knock it back, but Viking Explorer was generally an unhappy traveller for those 2 weeks.

Tumbu Fly / Putzi Fly

This makes for a great story over drinks!  I noticed a few bites when we were camping at Red Chilli Backpackers in Kampala, Uganda.  These later developed into rather uncomfortable small boils – which of course I just HAD to squeeze.  To my initial horror – a tiny little larva came out!

It turns out that this is quite common in the tropics of east and central Africa (and other continents).  The Tumbu fly lays eggs in clothing hung out to dry.  When the clothes come into contact with your skin, the eggs hatch and the larvae burrows into the skin.  These develop into full grown maggots if left alone – but I would imagine the boils would be quite painful by that stage.

The larvae are easy to remove: a dab of Vaseline or other ointment over the top (which is the breathing hole) followed a while later (next day or so) with a squeeze usually gets rid of the little critter.  In themselves, the larvae don’t cause any harm, but be sure to look after the wound after the larvae has been removed.

Poor Viking Explorer had to play doctor for the 5 bites that were on my back and buttocks.  Not fun for him at all!  When we told the story to Tom and Jemina, Tom laughed, nodded knowingly, and told us his sister and aunt had grown up in Belgian Congo and this was quite a regular occurrance!

In theory, avoid hanging clothes outside to dry.  Which is all fine and well if you aren’t on an overland trip camping your way around …


When I look back on the post, it all looks like we had more serious health issues than it felt!  Considering we were on the road for over a year, and explored so much, I feel that we had relatively little to deal with.

It was helpful that we had a little “Lonely Planet Healthy travel: Africa” pocket size book with us – at least we had some sort of reference while we tried to figure out what we had 😉

At the end of the day, we always found help when we needed it, and fortunately never succumbed to anything life threatening.

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