December holidays are all about relaxing and letting your hair down after a long, busy year, but while you’re doing this, it’s important to look after you and your family’s health as well.
Jackie Maimin, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) warns South Africans to be aware of these 10 holiday health hazards this summer.
Rabies is spread from animals to humans. Domestic dogs are most responsible for transmission of the virus to humans. The virus affects the brain and is transmitted through direct animal contact involving scratches, bites or licks on mucous membranes of the lips or eyes. You can’t contract rabies through intact skin, meaning that touching, petting or being close to animals is not a risk factor for transmission.
Rabies can be prevented with a rabies vaccine, but not treated.
- Don’t pet stray dogs or cats, and keep your pets away from them as well.
- Don’t coax wild animals to eat from your hand.
This disease is caused by parasitic worms. Parasites enter the body when you swim, wash, or paddle in contaminated water. Drinking contaminated water or eating food that was washed in untreated water can also increase the risk of infection.
Bilharzia can affect the intestines, urinary system (increasing the risk of bladder cancer), liver, spleen, lungs, spinal cord and the brain.
- Avoid swimming or wading in fresh water when you are in areas where schistosomiasis occurs. Swimming in the ocean and in chlorinated swimming pools is safe.
- Drink safe water. Although schistosomiasis is not transmitted by swallowing contaminated water, you could become infected if your mouth or lips come in contact with water containing the parasites.
Insect bites and bee stings
These will usually cause a red, swollen lump on the skin. It may be painful and in some cases can be very itchy. Some people have a mild allergic reaction and a larger area of skin around the bite or sting becomes swollen, red and painful.
African trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, is a disease spread by an infected tsetse fly, found in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa.
- Avoid bites by using insect repellents, particularly during the evenings and at night when they are most likely to bite. Insect repellents containing DET are recommended.
Nearly half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria.
- Avoid being outside after dark, or sleeping outside. Keep your curtains drawn and insect screens on your widows closed. If you are sleeping in a tent, keep the net screens closed and ensure there aren’t any holes. Keep the room or tent door closed at all times.
- Even if you have done everything right, there always remains a small risk of contracting malaria. Chat to your pharmacist if you are planning a trip to a malaria area for malaria prevention medication.
If not treated properly, inflammation from chronic hepatitis can lead to cell damage and eventually liver cancer. Hepatitis A and E are spread through contaminated food or water, while types B, C and D are transmitted through blood and body fluids.
- If you are travelling to countries with poor sanitation, practice good hygiene, including washing your hands after bathroom trips, drinking previously boiled water or purified bottled water and avoiding uncooked foods and undercooked meat.
Marine stings and bites
Oceans contain many creatures with stingers, spines or sharp teeth. Many of these animals live in warm, shallow water where swimmers and snorkelers are likely to encounter them.
Stingray stings usually cause intense pain, nausea, weakness, and fainting. In rare cases, a person who is stung might have trouble breathing or even die.
Most stings from jellyfish, anemones, and corals cause rashes and sometimes blisters. You may also experience headaches, chest pain, muscle pain and sweating.
- Don’t touch marine creatures. Check any warning signs before entering the sea and wear shoes when walking in rock pools.
There are over 130 different snake species in South Africa. The most dangerous snakes in South Africa are the Black Mamba, Puff Adder, Cape Cobra, Boomslang and Rinkhals.
Different snake bites carry different symptoms, but victims may experience dizziness, difficulty in swallowing and breathing, drooping eyelids, nausea, burning pain, swelling, bleeding from the nose and mucous membrane.
In the event of a snakebite, remove the victim’s rings and tight clothing, keep them as calm and still as possible and get them to a hospital as soon as possible.
- If bitten, get to a medical facility as soon as possible. Try and take a picture of the snake – identifying it will expedite treatment.
Parasites are organisms that live in, and feed off, a living host. There are a variety of parasitic worms that can take up residence in humans. Among them are flatworms, thread worms, tape worms, and roundworms.
The risk of parasitic infection is higher in rural or developing regions, and in places where food and drinking water may be contaminated and sanitation poor.
Symptoms include nausea, lack of appetite, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss and general weakness.
- De-worm yourself, family members and all pets once or twice every year.
Bacteria can contaminate food, making it harmful to eat. Food can be contaminated at any time during growth, harvesting or slaughter, processing, storage, shipping and even during preparation in a restaurant or home kitchen.
Infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly are more likely to develop food-borne illnesses than others. Symptoms comprise of vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and chills.
Examples of food-borne illnesses include salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, shigella and vibrio.
- Make sure your food is cooked thoroughly. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before and after handling any raw meats, fruits and vegetables.
- Wash utensils and disinfect surfaces before and after use.
- Don’t defrost food on the kitchen counter.
At least 20 000 South Africans are diagnosed annually with non-melanoma skin cancers, and approximately 1 500 are diagnosed with melanoma. “It is vital to put sunscreen on every time you venture out into the sun,” says Maimin. Babies and children younger than one years should, ideally, not be in the sun. Sunscreen shouldn’t be used on babies younger than six months.