Doing my part for global health

I recently discovered the Fully Sick Rapper through Facebook. and have developed a huge internet crush on him! Christiaan VanVuuren, aka the “Fully Sick Rapper,” is an Ozzie who had contracted Tuberculosis (TB) on a trip to South America. He has been in quarantine for months, and maintains his sanity (or lack thereof) by creating hilarious rap videos about his life in quarantine and sharing them on Youtube. I put one on while I was checking email this morning, and realized that – wait a second – I should be taking my weekly malaria pill!

I’m leaving for a trip to Belize (in Central America) on Wednesday. A couple weeks ago, I was looking up travel tips on WikiTravel. I found a note about checking the CDC’s Travelers’ Health website, where I found information about Belize by click on “Destinations.” That’s how I learned that there is a risk of contracting malaria in that area, and that preventative antimalarial drugs are recommended.

We have heard a lot lately about pandemics thanks to H1N1. Despite the fact that most people consider the H1N1 scare an “overreaction,” flus and other viral communicable diseases like TB are a big fucking deal, especially when drug-resistant strains develop and spread to countries unequipped to treat them. It’s also important to realize that other diseases, like STIs can also be passed around through international travel. Randy Shilts, author of And the Band Played On, theorizes that HIV came to the United States in 1976 during the national bicentennial celebration. To celebrate the country’s 200th birthday, New York harbor was crammed with Navy ships that had been all over the world, and a whole heck of a lot of world-traveled sailors partied hard in the same city. Four years later, gay men began to show symptoms of what we now understand to be AIDS.

The World Health Organization and plenty of NGOs work hard to prevent the international spread of disease, especially of communicable disease like TB, H1N1, avian flu, etc. But some responsibility lies on the part of the individual. Now that we live in such a global society, where people can hop planes and cross oceans in a matter of hours, we are each responsible for protecting ourselves and others when we travel. For me, this meant doing a little research and getting a prescription for anti-malarial drugs before my trip. It also means remembering to TAKE the pills, which I almost forgot until the Fully Sick Rapper reminded me.  So, next time you travel, do your part to prevent the spread of disease and follow these steps:

  1. Research the country you are traveling to for information about health risks, vaccines, and other preventative health care. I think the CDC Travelers’ Health page is great for this.
  2. Follow up.  Get your immunizations and fill your prescriptions.
  3. Comply with preventative treatment. (Don’t forget to take your pills!)
  4. Comply with treatment if you do get sick. (Don’t be like that guy who found out he had TB and had to be forcibly quarantined after he hopped a plane to Europe and put hundreds of people at risk.)
  5. Bring condoms. This rule may not apply to everyone, but it definitely applies to anyone who hopes meet someone on their trip. It also applies to anyone staying in youth hostels because even if you aren’t going to need them, someone you meet in the hostel probably will.

Thanks for listening to this long-winded public service announcement. Safe travels!

One Comment

  1. Little correction…malaria can only be transmitted by certain types of mosquito that don’t really live in the US. So no malaria pandemic caused by you. But TB, that’s another story (don’t get it, please)…


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