The Worst of Cruise Diseases
Or: How to Spoil a Sailing Vacation - Part I

As with any intense hobby, sailing involves a couple of risky things that require attention. Be it infectious diseases in tropical countries, parasites from exotic locations or an ordinary sunburn – you should give some thought to the health threats specific for cruises. This article aims to help you identify and eliminate potential dangers.

1.) Rabies: Let’s start with a good one. Rabies is an infectious disease transmitted by mammals such as dogs, bats or your ex-wife. To make things even nicer, rabies is almost always lethal if not treated in an early stage. There is a vaccination against rabies that is recommended for a couple of destinations, but is said to involve a rather painful injection. If you get bitten by a suspicious animal, disinfect the wound immediately and try to isolate the animal to keep it under observation.

A number of countries in the World claim to be rabies free – this most often refers to terrestrial rabies, even though bats might still carry the virus (as they do, for example, in Great Britain). Reduce your risk to get infected by avoiding close contact to wild cats, dogs and alike.

2.) Malaria: You thought rabies was bad? Malaria kills millions every year and is a big issue for locals and visitors alike in almost all tropical countries. It is caused by potozoans in your blood that are transmitted by mosquito bites, mostly through the species Anopheles gambiae. Malaria strands in different parts of the World vary in nastiness, and so prophylactic medication often needs to be matches with a particular area.

Talk to your doctor about the best protection. Avoid getting bitten by using insect repellents, long-sleeved clothing and mosquito nets. There are diagnostic kits available that will allow you to test blood for malaria; this is useful if you want to avoid the heavy medication. Malaria is a very serious disease and many infected people become chronically ill even after seeking medical help back in the US or Europe. Don’t underestimate malaria!

3.) Hepatitis A: Is the most infectious form of hepatitis and can be caught from food, water, or even handshakes if you are unlucky. It is a viral disease that attacks you liver. An expensive vaccination with three injections gives combines protection against Hepatitis A and its bigger brother Hepatitis B for ten years. More about this guy…

4.) Hepatitis B: Is a bastard to have, but fortunately, quite easily to avoid. It is transmitted through such delicate fluids as blood, sperm or vaginal secretion. As pointed out in the previous paragraph, there is an effective vaccination available against the hepatitis bros and you should not hesitate to get it if you travel a lot. Precautions are straight-forward: Avoid any contact to blood, non-sterile needles and syringes, sexual intercourse – especially unprotected one.

5.) Hepatitis C: It will stop after this one, I promise. Hepatitis C can be considered to be generally similar to Hepatitis B – with one significant difference: there is no vaccination available against this form of hepatitis. It is transmitted trough bodily fluids, so protection is best achieved in similar ways as against Hepatitis B or…

6.) AIDS: Everybody should know a lot about it, since this viral disease is omnipresent in today’s media. AIDS is caused by the HI-virus (HIV), which can remain undetected for up to ten years. AIDS is a very serious epidemic in Eastern Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Once you get infected, it is likely that it will kill you! HIV is transmitted in similar ways as Hepatitis B and C, through direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids. Keep in mind that insect bites and saliva do not transmit the virus.

7.) Measles: A viral disease, this one can be avoided by vaccination. Talk to your doctor whether you require one at all – you might get around it if you ever had a shot or if you have had the disease before.

8.) Diphtheria: Rarely a problem these days, most people have received a vaccination against diphtheria together with poliomyelitis. It occurs occasionally in Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia.

9.) Poliomyelitis: This disease was meant to be eradicated from the face of the planet, but proved to be nastier than the WHO had thought. It is still found worldwide except in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand – although global travelling means that even these areas are no longer on the safe side. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with infected people, contaminated water or food. There is a vaccination available, which most westerners have and should renew once every ten years.

10.) Tuberculosis: Common in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, tuberculosis is now on the rise again in Eastern Europe. A vaccination is available, but rarely recommended.

11.) Tetanus: Caused by the spores of a fungus, tetanus is available everywhere and anytime – wherever the spores can enter your body, be it through a tiny scratch or a major wound. A vaccination against tetanus is common practice in all Western countries and requires a refreshing shot every ten years.

12.) Typhoid: Another disease found globally apart from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and once again, you should not rely on this 100 percent. It is transmitted by contaminated food or water. Protection can be obtained by a simple vaccination, which is recommended for a limited number of destinations.

13.) Tape worms: One of my favorites, since almost forgotten in the Western World beyond the life of cats and dogs. Out there tape worms cause a variety of very serious health issues for millions of people, mostly those living in very basic conditions. “Tape worm” refers to dozens and hundreds of species of endoparasitic worms that can be caught from contaminated food, drinks or contact to animals or faeces.

Treatment normally involves antibiotics and is generally a minor issue in Western countries – however, especially if you dislike to share your meals, eat only properly heated food, wash you hands frequently with soap, avoid direct contact with wild mammals and don’t touch poo.

14.) Cholera: Back to the really nasty bits, cholera is a real killer. It occurs in areas with poor sanitation, mostly in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. It is transmitted by contaminated water or food and a major threat after natural disasters or in war zones, where sewers and other sanitary infrastructure gets damaged. The only available vaccine gives only partly protection. Avoid areas with poor sanitation, purify your water and mind hygiene to get around cholera.

15.) Yellow Fever: A classic from the days of Rudyard Kipling, this tropical disease is still common in Central Africa and Central America. Once it killed thousands of workers digging the Panama Canal, this disease is transmitted by mosquito bites. A vaccination is available, but generally recommended for only a few destinations. It can be tricky to obtain the vaccination in your country of origin, talk to your doctor, he might have to order the vaccine in advance.

Read the rest of the list in "The Worst of Cruise Diseases - Part II"

Further Reading

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