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Health in the Tropics

Rural village, Perak.

This is probably the most difficult aspect to write about. You are advised to visit your local doctor, or where available, doctors in specialised centres for Tropical Medicine, for pre-travel advice. There are also a number of websites devoted to Travellers Health, one that I like and has been verified by the Traveller's Medical & Vaccination Centre (TMVC, Australia) is found in the Lonely Planet Website. Alternatively, you can visit their own site TMVC which provides country-by-country health guides and vaccination requirements. More information can also be sought from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Personally, I will often travel with a first-aid kit with me and this will usually allow me to deal quite effectively, in-the-field, some of the most common of tropical ailments, if all fails, I also have Health and Medical Insurance! Some simple precautions that I do take include:

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Cuts. It's especially important to keep any wounds clean; I have seen simple cuts infected in a matter of days resulting in horrible infections. I have found the spray-on plasters very useful as plasters are not durable in the tropics or when in the jungle. I have gauze and surgical tape for more serious stuff. If you are adventurous, you could also try to obtain a special powder from Chinese medical shops that stops external bleeding.

Stings. Anti-histamine is always carried with me. Whether for stings (bees or wasps), or, for controlling itchiness after too many bites (ants or mossys). Remember to get the non-drowsy ones.

Fungal Infections. Look out for this, especially in the dark, often moist, parts of your body. I have had infections behind my knees and my bottom after fields trips. Redness and itchiness are some of the symptoms.

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Leptospirosis. A nasty rat-borne infection; it can be picked up from water or open wounds. I would be very careful around caves (where there might be lots of rats) and rivers (never swim after a period of rain: (a) it is dangerous and (b) that's when it is most likely that rats urine will be washed into the river system.

Malaria. This is a common question. I personally do not take prophylactics, partly because I live in Malaysia and nobody really knows what the prolonged use of the medicine will do to me. I do however take very careful precautions and use lots of herbal repellents, or ones with low "deet" content, have longs ready for the early evenings and do not sleep outside without a mossy-net or some form of protection. This has kept me malaria-free for a number of years, and the only time I succumbed was before I followed these simple precautions.

These are basically my personal precautions of a layman (I make no illusions of having any medical qualifications). I highly recommend you do your own research and do consult any experts you know.

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Photo: Rural village, Perak - © WILDBORNEO.net


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