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

16.) SARS: A few years ago, Hong Kong issued a tourism brochure that advertised the former colony with the sparkling phrase “a city that takes your breath away”. This was before 2003, the year of SARS, the disease that made all of Asia shiver with fear. SARS is transmitted through droplet infection and shares symptoms with simple colds, such as light fever or general discomfort.

Today, the media hype around SARS is over and even in Asia itself the situation has relaxed. However, there are still occasional health checks going on. There is no vaccination available, masks might provide some protection against an infection.

17.) Meningococcal meningitis: Another one that comes via droplet infection, meningitis is an increasing issues in many countries of the Third World. It is particularly common in the countries of tropical Africa. There are three variations of Meningococcal meningitis, A, B and C – and a vaccination is available only for A and C. If you cruise to Africa, your doctor should know more about requirements for vaccinations.

18.) Flu and Bird Flu: The disease of choice in 2005/06, when Southeast Asian bird flu caused panic and hysteria all over the World; and that despite of the very realistic threat of a flu pandemic being around and known for more than 80 years and not a single case of a human-human transmission. Nevertheless, bird flu and other kinds of influenza remain a high risk in Southeast Asia and should be treated with much consideration.

Infectious forms are transmitted by droplets, there is a vaccination available against flu, but this does not give very good protection. If you travel in Southeast Asia, avoid direct contact with birds, both wild and domesticated, and eat poultry only if thoroughly cooked.

19.) Japanese B Encephalitis: Uncommon, but occasionally popping up in locations anywhere between India and Japan, this infectious disease is another reason for using insect repellents. It is transmitted through mosquitoes mostly during the wet season from early summer to fall. There is a vaccination available that protects you against Japanese B encephalitis for two years, but it is recommended only for a limited number of destinations. Talk to your doctor for further information.

20.) Ciguatera: Ciguatera is a disease rarely heard of among average tourists, but quite a threat for cruisers and fishermen. It is not an infection, but a poisoning from eating toxic fish common in coral reefs. To make it even more exciting, it is not only particular species of toxic fish, but also predatory fish that was caught in reef areas that are a potential threat. Always be careful removing the guts from predators. Never eat the head of fish caught in reefs. There are test kits available to check cigua content of fish; ask you doctor for further advice.

21.) Bug bites - Spiders, millipedes, insects: There’s more to cruising than just infectious diseases! Think of all the venomous critters out there, that could get you, too! Insects are the World’s number one killers when it comes to venom causalities, in particular hymenoptera, that is, ants, bees and wasps. In tropical areas, it quickly gets more exotic than that.

Spiders are obviously an issue, however, out of about 40 000 species of spiders, only about 40 are seriously dangerous (meaning: lethal). Others might still send you to hospital for days and even elderly people, sick ones, people with allergies or children might well get killed by one of the remaining 39 960 species. Never trust a biologist, I’m one myself!

Similar things apply to snakes: everybody knows that they are not to be petted, so leave them alone. Other animals are more surprisingly dangerous: Millipedes for example. Some species from the Caribbean and Southeast Asia make potent venoms and you should never touch a millipede. Scorpions hold a lot of poison, too. Finally, marine invertebrates such as conches or jellyfish can have venomous stings and cnides, so keep a watchful eye on your surroundings when snorkeling.

To avoid an in-depth experience with wildlife that might end you wild life, don’t enter forests by yourself; use insect repellents; don’t wear shorts or sandals when walking in a weedy terrain, no sandals in leaf litter. Never touch animals in the wild. If you have allergies, carry antihistamines or other appropriate medication.

22.) Diarrhea: Not a disease in the strict sense, but rather a symptom that occurs in a number of diseases. Diarrhea is a big problem in almost all tropical countries for both locals and tourists and can have a variety of causes.

Almost all tourists from Western countries suffer from some form of diarrhea when travelling to remote areas. This is partly because of low sanitary standards in many parts of the World, partly because everyone’s body needs some time to adjust to local microbes in the food and water. However, bacterial infections with fellows like Escherichia coli can boost diarrhea to dangerous levels.

The main issue about diarrhea is dehydration and a loss of minerals. Drink, drink and drink more to compensate. Try to get mineral water or vitamin and mineral supplements to keep your salts in balance. There are all sorts of drugs available that claim to cure diarrhea.

To avoid it in first place, be thoughtful about hygiene; wash your hands frequently and change your clothes daily; don’t eat dubious food, drink only bottled water; have a shot of liquor after every meal; take a charcoal pill every day; and allow you body some time to adjust to an unfamiliar environment and climate.

General advice for vaccinations: Always carry a document or certificate for all your vaccinations with you! Some vaccinations are compulsory for specific countries, in which you might have to prove what you are immunized. Always carry enough sterile needles and syringes with you, if you don’t want to rely on what is available in the countries you cruise!

Read the first bit of the list: "The Worst of Cruise Diseases - Part I"

Further Reading

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