Common travel diseases and how to prevent them

Samburu herders, Saruni Samburu luxury safari lodge Kenya

Travelling is exciting and it can be all too easy to forget some of the risks inherent in visiting new places. This is particularly true of those that are less developed, where certain diseases may be endemic and medical care hard to reach. Fortunately, there are plenty of practical steps that travellers can take to reduce the risk of falling ill.


Malaria is a risk in many parts of the world. Transmitted by a single-celled protozoan parasite, it can pass to a person through the bite of an infected mosquito. The protozoan that causes malaria is called Plasmodium. There are several different species of Plasmodium, each of which causes a different type of malaria. One of those most dangerous strains is P. falciparum, which can transmit a deadly strain of cerebral malaria.

Taking prescribed regimes of anti-malarial drugs can often prevent malaria. Travellers can also reduce their chances of suffering mosquito bites by wearing light-coloured clothing that covers all their limbs, using a tropical formula insect repellent and sleeping under a mosquito net.

Some types of malaria are only occasionally life-threatening. However, malaria caused by P. falciparum requires urgent clinical treatment in an appropriate hospital setting. This type of malaria should be suspected in anyone who develops a high fever within seven days of travelling in an infected area, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. Since professional medical treatment is required if you contract this disease, it is very important you take out travel insurance as hospital stays will be lengthy and the cost of medical fees will be large. If you already suffer from any medical conditions you must purchase a special international medical insurance policy to account for these, otherwise your claim will not be accepted and you will still have to pay your medical bill. Not something you want on top of all your other travel expenses!

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Malaria is widespread throughout tropical climates across the globe


This viral haemorrhagic disease is contracted via close contact with infected primates, including humans. It has mortality rates of up to 90% and is predominately confined to west sub-Saharan Africa. There is no vaccine against Ebola, so avoiding eating bush meat is sensible as this is a common means of transmission.

Anyone with Ebola must get to hospital as quickly as possible, where they will be treated under strict infection control protocols. Again if you do contract Ebola you will be in hospital for an incredibly long time and therefore travel insurance is essential to prevent huge medical bills ruining your trip on top of contracting a disease.

Typhoid Fever

Various strains of Salmonella typhi are responsible for the development of typhoid fever. It is transmitted when someone consumes food or water contaminated with infected faeces or urine. It causes a very high fever, muscle aches and chronic diarrhoea or constipation. In severe cases, it can be fatal.

A vaccine against typhoid fever is available but is not fully effective. The best protection is taking care over eating and drinking. This includes drinking only bottled or sterilised water and avoiding anything that might have been washed in tap water, like salads.

Most cases of typhoid fever are treatable at home with a course of antibiotics. Only the most severe cases will require hospitalisation.

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If you’re eating salad, make sure you know it hasn’t been washed in tap water


Also known as Bilharzia, Schistosomiasis is caused by tiny parasitic worms carried by certain species of freshwater snails in sub-Saharan Africa and certain other tropical areas. The worms burrow into a person’s skin, travel around the body through the bloodstream, before eventually laying eggs. The result is a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including abdominal pain, itching and overwhelming fatigue. Although only rarely fatal, it can have extremely debilitating effects on sufferers and may damage the liver, kidneys and bladder.

There are no vaccines against Schistosomiasis. The only prevention is to avoid swimming in freshwater in areas where the parasite is found and to filter or boil water before drinking. There is usually no need for hospital admissions in cases of Schistosomiasis. A medicine called praziquantel is used to kill the worms, while steroids can be given to alleviate the symptoms.

These diseases are all pretty horrific, but as long as travellers observe the precautions mentioned above, and take out appropriate travel medical insurance, there shouldn’t be any need to worry. So go and enjoy your holiday!

This post has been sponsored by Medical Travel Insurance. 

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