9 Holiday health hazards you should know about

There’s nothing quite like the summer holidays. It’s an opportunity to put your feet up after a long year and a chance to explore exciting places with family and friends. However, apart from the expensive, summer holidays can expose the unsuspecting to a variety of health hazards. Jackie Maimin, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) discusses holiday health hazards that South Africans should be aware of this summer.

1.Rabies: Rabies is spread from animals to humans. Domestic dogs are most responsible for transmission of the virus to humans. The virus is transmitted through direct animal contact involving scratches, bites or licks on mucous membranes of the lips or eyes.

How to avoid: Avoid wild animals even if they appear friendly, and do not coax a wild animal to eat from your hand.  

2.Bilharzia/schistosomiasis: This is a disease caused by parasitic worms. Parasites enter the body when a person is swimming, washing, or paddling in contaminated water. Bilharzia can affect the intestines, urinary system (increasing the risk of bladder cancer), liver, spleen, lungs, spinal cord and the brain.

How to avoid: Avoid swimming or wading in freshwater when in areas in which schistosomiasis occurs.

3. Insect bites and bee stings: These will usually cause a red, swollen lump to develop on the skin. This may be painful and in some cases can be very itchy.

How to avoid: Use insect repellents, particularly during the evenings and at night when they are most likely to bite. Insect repellents containing DET are recommended.

4. Malaria: Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria.

How to avoid: Avoid being outside after dark or sleeping outside. In your accommodation keep your curtains and insect screens on your windows closed. If you are sleeping in a tent, make sure you keep the net screens closed and ensure there are no holes anywhere. Keep the room or tent door closed at all times.  Chat to your local community pharmacist if you are planning a trip to a malaria area for malaria prevention medication.

5. Hepatitis: Unless treated properly, inflammation from chronic hepatitis can lead to cell damage and, eventually, liver cancer. Hepatitis A and E are spread through contaminated food or water, while types B, C and D are transmitted through blood and body fluids.  

How to avoid: If you plan to travel to countries with poor sanitation, you’ll want to make sure you practice good hygiene, including washing your hands after bathroom trips, drinking previously boiled water or purified bottled water and avoiding uncooked foods and undercooked meat.

6.Marine stings and bites: Oceans contain many creatures with stingers, spines or sharp teeth. Stingray stings usually cause intense pain, nausea, weakness, and fainting. In rare cases, a person who is stung might have trouble breathing or even die.
Most stings from jellyfish, anemones, and corals cause rashes and sometimes blisters. You may also experience headaches, chest pain, muscle pain and sweating.

How to avoid: Don’t touch marine creatures. Check any warnings signs before entering the sea and wear shoes when walking in rock pools.

7.Snakebites: There are over 130 different species of snakes in South Africa. The most dangerous snakes in South Africa are the Black Mamba, Puff Adder, Cape Cobra, Boomslang and Rinkhals. Snakebite victims may experience dizziness, difficulty in swallowing and breathing, drooping eyelids and nausea, burning pain, swelling, bleeding from the nose and mucus membrane.

How to treat:  In the event of a snakebite, remove the victim’s rings and tight clothing, keep them calm and as still as possible and get the victim to a hospital as soon as possible and in a safe manner.

8.Foodborne illnesses: Bacteria can contaminate food, making it harmful to eat. Food can be contaminated at any time during growth, harvesting or slaughter, processing, storage, shipping and even during preparation in a restaurant or home kitchen. Examples of foodborne illnesses include salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, shigella and vibrio.

How to avoid: Make sure your food is cooked thoroughly. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before and after handling any raw meats, fruits and vegetables.

9. Sun dangers: At least 20 000 South Africans are diagnosed annually with non-melanoma skin cancers, and approximately 1 500 are diagnosed with melanoma.

How to avoid: Ask your pharmacist for advice on the best sunscreen for your skin type or look for CANSA approved sunscreen products at your local independent community pharmacy and choose one with an SPF between 30 and 50 – the higher the better, especially for fairer skins.” If you’re brave enough to step outdoors this summer, first check with your pharmacist about which medicines you should pack into your medicine box and whether any vaccinations are recommended for your destination.

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