The Weird World Of Travel Bugs
January 24, 2014

The Weird World Of Travel Bugs

It makes you want to just curl up and stay in bed. Reading about the truly horrible illnesses that a body can pick up while traveling is enough to put off even the most ardent travel freak. You begin to wonder if it is too dangerous even to nip down to the supermegahypermart for a six-pack because, wait a minute, it is OUT OF TOWN. In a recent article, I wrote about some of my own experiences with travel “bugs,” but some things you can catch or be invaded by are even more bizarre and scary and I will be writing a series about these right here on redOrbit. Here are a few of them to start with, but remember – these illnesses are no laughing matter and taking precautions to avoid them in the first place is advisable whenever possible.

Malaria is a familiar “foreign” disease to most people and is endemic in large areas of the tropics. It can be a killer. Every year, up to 1,500 Americans return home with this nasty disease and around ten of those will die. One of the big problems is mis-diagnosis, particularly in the early stages when the symptoms can mimic the flu and similar infections with chills, fever, and aches. As mosquitoes carry malaria, the simple precaution of avoiding bites in the first place is a good idea, but various preventative meds are available from your doc before travel.

Less well known, and often wrongly diagnosed as malaria itself, is another nasty spread by parasites (this time by the bite of the sandfly) — Leishmaniasis. The most common form that travelers take home with their duty free booze is the cutaneous form, which is found in the Middle East, as well as Central and South America. Often starting as an insect bite that just will not heal, cutaneous Leishmaniasis will go on to produce very unpleasant skin sores. The second form, systemic Leishmaniasis, is found in Africa and India. Symptoms include fever and night sweats, stomach pain, and enlargement of the spleen and liver.

You are on a tight budget and traveling light. You are in Sub-Saharan Africa and to save a few dollars, you decide to do your own washing. You had better think twice before hanging your wet clothes over your hotel balcony, tent ropes, or a thorny bush because this is a “come and get me” invitation to the Tumbu fly — a very picky little bug that just loves to lay its eggs on your carefully washed clothes drying in the sun. Unaware of the danger, you slip your best jungle khakis on and those eggs turn into tiny larvae, which then munch their way into your flesh and before you know it, you are covered in painful and itchy blisters, boils (often with two black dots in the middle) and abscesses. You are now the proud carrier of Tumbu Fly Miasis. This will be one to tell the grandkids about when you can describe how you, or if you are lucky a doctor who recognizes the problem, had to suffocate the larvae with ointment before yanking them out with tweezers.

In future articles I will be looking at other bugs lying in wait for you out there in the big wide world – some of them much closer to home than you might expect.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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