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How to Spot the Differences Between Hay Fever and a Cold

Posted Monday 18 March 2019 13:31 by in Acid Reflux by Johanna Galyen

hay fever medication

As the cold weather turns into springtime, we start to feel the urge to get outside and enjoy the flowers, budding trees, gentle breezes, and sunshine. The excitement of the warmer weather can quickly dampen with the coming of hay fever season. But is it really hay fever? Is the scratchy sore throat a sign of allergies or an infection? Isn’t it still cold and flu season? Should I just stay home from work? Before the panic starts to ensue, let’s stop for a few moments and look at the eight differences between hay fever and the common cold.

1: The common cold is caused by a viral infection

According to Medical News Today, the common cold is most frequently from coronaviruses or rhinoviruses. While there are over 200 subtypes of viruses that can cause these symptoms, it is usually impossible to tell which virus is making a person sick. Thankfully, these viruses are generally short-lived, and you’ll start to feel better pretty soon.

2. Hay Fever is caused by an allergic reaction

pollen countThe body protects itself through the immune system. The immune system works 24:7 to protect you from germs, viruses, and bacteria. For those susceptible to hay fever, the pollen is identified as an invader and many symptoms like allergic rhinitis can be seen. Just know this: your immune system wants it gone!

To get rid of the allergen, the body produces histamine. Histamine is similar to a chemical messenger in that it signals your body to start making more fluids and mucus to trap the invader and flush it away. What does that mean for you? Hay fever can produce watery eyes, fluid in your ears, congestion in your nose, and a draining-like sensation in the back of your throat.

As annoying as these symptoms are, the body is just trying to protect itself from the foreign invaders. To treat these symptoms, your GP may recommend some antihistamines (a medicine that fights against the histamine).

3. An itchy throat is different than a sore throat

When you first notice that dreaded feeling in your throat, stop and evaluate what you are really feeling. There is a difference between a dry, scratchy (itchy) throat and a painful throat. Pain and soreness usually indicate an infection like the common cold. Severe throat pain may mean that you have a bacterial infection like strep throat.

A scratchy, itchy feeling in your throat is typical of allergies. This feeling is caused by the presence of pollen or growing grasses that irritates your nose and mouth.

A word of caution: An itchy throat is also a sign of a dangerous allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. It may be accompanied by a swelling or a tight closing sensation in the back of your throat. Sometimes, a person’s voice may start sounding – typically higher-pitched and more strained. If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately by calling 999.

4. Check the colour of your mucus

This may sound a little bit gross, but the colour of your mucus is helpful to determine if you have allergies or illness. Clear drainage is typical of allergies whereas shades of yellow and green can indicate an infection. If you are seeing green, then you should be seeing your general practitioner.

Here’s a tip: don’t check the colour of the mucus for the first few hours when you wake up. During the night, the mucus can dry out somewhat, and it naturally turns yellow, greenish, and brown. Wait a few hours, and then see what colour it is.

5. Look at your eyes

The Eyes are the window to your soul – Shakespeare

Shakespeare wasn’t a physician, but he was very accurate when talking about the eyes. How your eyes look also can reflect your health. Symptoms of hay fever that involves the eyes can include:

  • Redness around the eyes
  • Itching of the eyes
  • Clear watering or tearing of the eyes
  • Puffiness around the eye
  • Pain around the sinuses

Sometimes a cold virus can affect the eyes, so it is important to highlight how the similarities and differences. Those who have a cold virus may experience:

  • Redness of the eye (also known as pink-eye)
  • Soreness around the eyes
  • Yellow or green drainage (worse in the mornings)
  • Painful eyes
  • Sinus pressure and pain

Remember, if you have yellow or green drainage coming out of your eyes, this should be handled carefully. The drainage can carry the virus and can be shared with others, so wash your hands frequently!

6. Timing is important

The timing, or the progression of a cold virus, is different than allergies. A cold often comes on slowly over a few days and progressively gets worse. Allergies can attack you at any time with any range of severity. How long that you are ill is also important to note. The common cold typically lasts up to 14 days. Allergies can last for weeks and months.

Here’s a tip: check the pollen counts for the day, and see if you should protect your nose and mouth from the pollen before you go outside.

7. Do you have body aches and a fever?

Aching joints and muscle pains are often the symptoms of the common cold or flu virus. These typically occur at the beginning of the infection. Additionally, if your body temperature goes above 37.6° C, this usually indicates that you have a fever as your body is trying to kill the virus.

Seasonal allergies, like hay fever, do not cause body aches or fever in most people. Some people may experience a slight increase in temperature, but it is really a fever unless your temperature passes 37.6° C or 100.4° F.

8. Is there an Allergic Salute?

Just as a member of the military salutes a higher-ranking official, there is a salute for allergies. The so-called allergic salute refers to the constant wiping of one’s nose. It can create a small red crease on the bridge of the nose, and it is most often seen in children. Adults, who suffer from hay fever, can also have this redness.

Those with the common cold typically have red, puffy noses from constant blowing, but they do not have the crease on their nose or are seen wiping it continually.

Knowing the difference between hay fever and the common cold is important for your health. In some situations, you may need additional support, treatment, and medication. Discover medication for a variety of health concerns – from antihistamines to nasal sprays – here at Express Pharmacy. We can help you gain access to effective treatment for hay fever swiftly and discreetly. Contact us today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or by using our online Live Chat service.

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Your Blood Type Could Increase Your Chances of Developing Travellers’ Diarrhoea, According to New Data

Posted Friday 15 March 2019 22:45 by in Travellers Diarrhoea by Tim Deakin

food market

Travellers’ diarrhoea, caused by viruses, bacteria or protozoa, is the most common infection experienced by travellers, affect over 20 percent of those who travel to high-risk destinations of the world.[1]

These high-risk areas are mostly found in South and South East Asia.[2] The condition occurs equally in male and female travellers and is more common in young adult travellers than in older ones.[3]

But now it seems that there many be other factors involved in one’s inclination towards or susceptibility to traveller’s diarrhoea – namely, blood type.

A new study[4], published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, has found that those with Type A blood are likely to be struck down with travellers’ diarrhoea sooner and more severely. These findings are significant for UK travellers, as nearly half of Brits have type A or AB blood.[5]

Researches gave more than 100 volunteers water containing enterotoxigenic E.coli. The results found that 81% of those with type A blood required medical attention for diarrhoea as a consequence, compared to just 56% in other blood types.

The study concluded that this is due to the way E.coli releases a protein which latches onto the intestinal cells of those with blood type A.

How to avoid travellers’ diarrhoea

Travellers’ diarrhoea is defined as the passing of three or more loose/watery bowel motions within a 24-hour period. It can be accompanied by other symptoms such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever.[6] Risk factors involved in travellers’ diarrhoea can include choice of eating place, season of travel, destination, diet, age and genetics.[7]

But despite being a common condition faced by many jet-setters, there are things you can do to significantly reduce your chances of contracting the disease.

The World Health Organisation has outlined their 5 key tips to enjoying safer food abroad, in an attempt to prevent the spread of food-borne diseases. These tips are:

  • Keep clean – wash your hands often, especially before handling food
  • Separate raw and cooked food – make sure cooked food is not contaminated with raw food
  • Cook food thoroughly – make sure food has been entirely cook and remains steaming hot
  • Keep food at safe temperatures – avoid food which has been left out such as at markets, buffers and street vendors
  • Choose safe food and water – Only drink sealed bottled water, or bring water to boil first. Peel all fruits and vegetables before consumption.[8]

The right medication can also offer a vital precautionary measure for travellers. Having access to effective travellers’ diarrhoea medication means that, should you fall victim to the infection, you are able to deal with your symptoms swiftly. Traveller’s diarrhoea treatment such as Ciprofloxacin and Azithromycin are available from Express Pharmacy.

Planning your next trip? Find effective medication at Express Pharmacy to ensure you stay safe. Get in touch today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or by using our discreet Live Chat service.


[1] Travel Health Pro. Travellers’ Diarrhoea Fact Sheet. 2019 [Accessed March 2019]

[2] British Medical Journal. Travellers’ diarrhoea clinical review. 2016 [Accessed March 2019]

[3] Connor, B.A. Traveller’s Diarrhoea.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017 [Accessed March 2019]

[4] Kumar, P. et al. Enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli-blood group A interactions intensify diarrheal severity. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2018 [Accessed March 2019]

[5] NHS Blood and Transplant. Blood Types. 2018 [Accessed March 2019]

[6] NHS Fit For Travel. Travellers’ Diarrhoea. 2019 [Accessed March 2019]

[7] Hill, D.R., Beeching, N.J. Travellers’ Diarrhoea. Cur Opin Infect Dis. 2010 [Accessed March 2019]

[8] World Health Organisation. A Guide on Safe Food for Travellers. 2010 [Accessed March 2019]

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Checking in on Malaria Risk Levels Around the World

Posted Friday 08 March 2019 12:03 by in Express Pharmacy by Tim Deakin

malaria protection

As one of the most dangerous and widespread diseases in the world, malaria is a condition that is constantly evolving. By looking at how the condition has changed and spread throughout the world, we can gain a clearer understanding of how to avoid it effectively when travelling.

Every traveller should be aware of the potential risks posed by infectious conditions such as malaria. Put simply, malaria is a serious tropical disease, spread by mosquitos. It can be fatal if left untreated, and a single mosquito bite is all it takes for someone to become infected with malaria.[1]

Despite still being a significant travel health risk today, the origins of malaria date back millions and millions of years. In fact, fossil mosquitoes have been found in geological strata 30 million years old.[2] What’s more, a variety of studies have suggested that P.falciparum malaria probably jumped from great apes to man, most likely by a single host transfer by vector mosquitos.[3] Findings indicate that malaria traces back to gorillas.[4]

As well as having a long and complex history behind it, the condition also has a huge geographical spread. Let’s take a closer look at malaria risk levels across time periods and around the world.

A timeline of malaria

We’ve already mentioned that, as well as being a dangerous and widespread condition, malaria is also an ancient one. In truth, the origins of malaria dates back hundreds of millions of years, yet it remains a significant health risk in several parts of the world today. Below is a timeline of how malaria has transformed over millennia.

Half a billion years ago: Existence of a pre-parasitic ancestor of the vector mosquito

150 million – 200 million years ago: Appearance of early Dipterans, ancestors of mosquitoes

130 million years ago: Evolution of two-host life cycle in Dipterans and vertebrates

130 million years ago: Divergence of the bird and mammalian malaria parasites

100 million years ago: Divergence of P.malariae, P.ovale and P.vivax lineage

5 million years ago: Evolution of P.falciparum

2-3 million years ago: Divergence of P.vivax from P.cynomolgi

10,000 years ago: Malaria appears in Africa

10,000 – 5,000 years ago: Malaria appears in Mesopotamia, the Indian peninsula and South-East Asia

4000 – 10,000 years ago: Appearance of the lethal strain of P.falciparum

5000 years ago: Malaria appears in China

4000 – 5000 years ago: In Africa, Anophelines develop highly anthropophilic habits

3000 years ago: The lethal P.falciparum strain of malaria reaches India

2500 – 2000 years ago: Malaria reaches the shores of the Mediterranean

1000 – 500 years ago: Malaria reaches Northern Europe

Late 15th Century: Malaria reaches the New World and much of the western hemisphere

Mid-18th Century: Malaria spreads across North America

19th Century: Malaria is now present across the globe

Early 20th Century: Millions of people die from malaria all over the world

Early 1950s: Malaria has almost disappeared from North America and from almost all of Europe

Present: Malaria fatalities almost entirely limited to sub-Saharan Africa.

Malaria worldwide

anti malarialThe World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 219 million cases of malaria occurred across the globe in 2017. Of these cases, around 435,000 people died from the disease. This number mostly consisted of children under 5 years of age in sub-Saharan Africa.[5]

International travellers could find themselves at risk of malaria infection in 87 countries around the world, most notably in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Those who do become infected with malaria often experience initial flu-like symptoms, as well as fever and chills. If left untreated, these symptoms can escalate into severe complications and even fatality.

Symptoms of malaria usually appear after a period of seven days or longer, though it can be sooner.

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitos which bite between dusk and dawn. Five strands of the Plasmodium virus regularly infect humans. These are falciparum, vivax, ovale, malariae and knowlesi.[6] While P.falciparum is the most dangerous strand, P.vivax is now the most geographically widespread of the human malarias, as it is estimated to account for 100-300 million clinical cases of the infection across Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East.[7]

The deadly P.falciparum strand of malaria is considered a serious public health concern in most countries within sub-Saharan Africa.

Preventing malaria

In many instances, malaria can be prevented. An easy way to remember the precautions you should take is by thinking of them as the ABCD approach.[8] This consists of:

Awareness of risk: find out whether your destination carries a risk of malaria before you travel

Bite prevention: avoid mosquito bites by using things such as insect repellent and an insecticide-treated mosquito net. You should also cover your arms and legs whenever possible

Check whether you need anti-malarial medication: Explore the various treatment options available. Always ensure you use the right dose and finish your course of medication

Diagnosis: Seek immediate medical advice if you develop any malaria symptoms for as long as up to a year after you return from your travels abroad.

Always speak to your GP if you’re planning to visit an area where there is a malaria risk.

Malaria risk countries

One of the most important questions to ask yourself when travelling is whether malaria is a risk factor in your destination. Being aware of potential malaria risks before you travel is essential, as the most serious forms of malaria can become life-threatening after just 24 hours.[9]

Most malaria cases in 2017 were within the WHO African Region (92%, or around 200 million). This is followed by the WHO South-East Asia Region (5% of cases) and the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (2%).[10]

Almost 80% of global malaria cases occurred within just 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India, and five countries accounted for almost half of all malaria instances worldwide: Nigeria (25%), Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Mozambique (5%), India (4%) and Uganda (4%).[11]

If you’re planning to travel further than Europe, you should carefully research any potential malaria risks in your area.

Understanding malaria is key to avoiding the condition when travelling further afield. If you’re worried that you may be at risk of the condition while travelling, contact Express Pharmacy today. We can provide effective anti-malarial medication such as Malarone and Doxycycline. Speak to one of our pharmacists today by calling 0208 23 07 03 or by using our discreet online Live Chat service.


[1] NHS UK. Malaria Overview. 2018 [Accessed March 2019]

[2] Carter, R., Mendis, K.N. Evolutionary and Historical Aspects of the Burden of Malaria. Clinical Microbiology Reviews. October 2002; 15(4) [Accessed March 2019]

[3] Alcock, K. Cerebral malaria may have passed from gorillas to us. 2010 [Accessed March 2010]

[4] Liu, W. et al. Origins of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in gorillas. Nature. September 2010 [Accessed March 2019]

[5] World Health Organisation. Malaria, Information for Travellers. 2019 [Accessed March 2019]

[6] Public Health England. Advisory Committee for Malaria Prevention. Guidelines for malaria prevention in travellers from the UK. 2018 [Accessed March 2019]

[7] Rich, S.M., Ayala, F.J. Evolutionary Origins of Human Malaria Parasites. Springer US. 2006 [Accessed March 2019]

[8] NHS UK. Malaria. 2018 [Accessed March 2019]

[9] NHS Fit For Travel. Malaria. 2019 [Accessed March 2019]

[10] Travel Health Pro. Malaria Factsheet. 2019 [Accessed March 2019]

[11] World Health Organisation. World Malaria Report 2018 [Accessed March 2019]

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Is It Possible to Avoid Pregnancy Without Contraception?

Posted Thursday 28 February 2019 12:05 by in Emergency Contraception by Tim Deakin

avoiding pregnancy

According to the NHS, there are 15 methods of contraception to choose from, each with its own level of effectiveness to consider. [1] However, this does mean that there are plenty of options for every individual and circumstance.

So surely, there’s no reason not to use protection of some kind if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy? Well, not everyone agrees. There are, of course, religious and cultural factors to take into account, as well as a host of myths and theories surrounding contraception and safe sex that have the capacity to confuse matters.

From contraception-free sex methods to myths about contraception itself, let’s see how some of these theories stand up to scrutiny.

Having sex on your period

There is a lot of talk surrounding the notion of having sex on your period. First of all, period sex is safe, and can actually lead to benefits such as relief from menstrual cramps.

However, your period should not be relied on as an effective method of contraception. Although you’re most likely to get pregnant during ovulation, every cycle is different and getting pregnant around your period can happen.[2]

The pull-out technique

The pull-out technique of contraception involves relying on a male partner’s timing. When the male partner feels that the point of climax is approaching, he ‘pulls out’ of the female in order to avoid releasing sperm into the vagina. However, in the heat of the moment, this can be difficult to time effectively, meaning the pull-out technique is not a guaranteed way to avoid pregnancy. In fact, if 100 women were to use the technique for pregnancy prevention each year, roughly 22 would have an unintended pregnancy.[3]

Having sex while breastfeeding

Many women assume that there is a direct correlation between their sex life and their decision to breastfeed. A study in 2005 found that women who were breast-feeding were more likely to delay resuming intercourse than those who were not breastfeeding.[4]

Research has shown that breastfeeding may help to prevent pregnancy if certain conditions are met, namely that the woman is within six months of having delivered the baby, has not had a menstrual cycle and if the baby is feeding only on breastmilk. All three of these conditions need to be met in order for breastfeeding to help in any way with contraception, and even then there is still a significant chance that pregnancy will occur.

The myths surrounding female contraception

The use of modern contraception has increased slightly in recent years, according to the World Health Organisation. In 1990, 54% used modern contraception, compared to 57.4% in 2015. However, this still almost half the female population who are not practising safe sex.[5]

This is partly due to the myths which surround female contraception. One such myth is that birth control causes severe weight gain. An analysis of 49 studies in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that going on the pill made no significant different to a woman’s weight.[6]

Another common misconception is that the use of birth control can lead to birth defects in children. Several studies have found no evidence between taking birth control and the likelihood of birth defects.[7]

contraception

Contraception is key

No matter when and how you’re having intercourse, practising safety throughout contraception is an important part of the process. The World Health Organisation summarises some of the key benefits of contraception, including empowering people, reducing adolescent pregnancies, slowing population growth, reducing infant mortality rates and helping to prevent the spread of diseases.[8]

If you’re nervous about seeking contraception from your GP, you can obtain safe and effective contraception discreetly by order from Express Pharmacy. If you have any more questions, you can get in touch with our pharmacists today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or using our online Live Chat service.


[1] NHS UK. What is contraception? 2019 [Accessed February 2019]

[2] NHS UK. Can I get pregnant just after my period has finished? 2018 [Accessed February 2019]

[3] Women’s Health Institute. Contraception myths. Cleveland Clinic, 2018 [Accessed February 2019]

[4] Rowland, M, Foxcroft, L., Hopman, W.M., Patel, R. Breastfeeding and sexuality immediately post partum. Can Fam Physician, 2005 [Accessed February 2019]

[5] World Health Organisation. Family Planning Fact Sheet. 2015 [Accessed February 2019]

[6] Gallo, M., Lopez, L., Grimes, D., Carayon, F., Schulz, K., Helmerhorst, F. Combination contraceptives: effects on weight. Cochrane Library, 2014 [Accessed February 2019]

[7] Sifferlin, A., Birth Control Pill Not Linked to Birth Defects: Study. TIME, 2016 [Accessed February 2019]

[8] World Health Organisation. Family Planning Fact Sheet. 2015 [Accessed February 2019]

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Visiting Africa: What You Need to Know Right Now

Posted Monday 25 February 2019 16:08 by in Travellers Diarrhoea by Johanna Galyen

travelling to Africa

As the weather starts to warm up and the spring flowers begin to bloom, you may be finding yourself getting ready to travel again. But before you pull out the suitcases, it’s time to make a plan. Whether you are looking forward to the majestic Mount Kilimanjaro or the plains of Kenya for a wildlife safari, spend some time making the right preparations to make sure that your vacation is extra-special and not filled with nasty surprises. In this article, we’ll be looking at a general overview of Africa and what you need to know to make this holiday the trip of a lifetime.

When and where are you visiting?

Africa is the world’s second largest continent, according to National Geographic, and given that it spans both the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn with coasts that touch many different seas and oceans, getting your packing, preparation and itinerary right can be quite a challenge. Some of the key attractions that you should consider are:

  • Savannas – these are the vast grasslands that play host to some of the world’s most captivating animal species. Kenya is one such popular destination where you may wish to head out on safari to see giraffes, elephants, and wildebeest. If you were to continue south, you would enter the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. This a vast area filled with wild animals and has been called Africa’s Eden.
  • Nile River – you can take a historical trip down the Nile river (the world’s longest) and explore the area and times of the Pharaohs so many years ago. Make sure you stop and see Valley of the Kings and those epic burial pyramids.
  • Lake Victoria – this large body of water is one of seven great lakes in Africa, and is a hotspot for tourists. Choose between a thatched-roof cottage or a private villa on one of the small islands. Either way, you will get to enjoy all that the beauty and thrills that the destination can offer you.
  • Mount Kilimanjaro – if trekking up to see a dormant volcano and the highest point in Africa is your idea of a vacation, then Mount Kilimanjaro is just for you. This hike should be done with careful planning and consideration as it is not a simple day hike; it is suggested that you plan for a week to help acclimate your body to the changes in elevation and plan for weather.
  • uShaka Marine World & South African Coastline – while this is not the quintessential African destination that comes up for most people, the southern part of Africa offers many different holiday experiences. Children and adults alike will love the large marine park as well as the gorgeous views of the Indian Ocean that the South African coastline can bring.

visit mount kilimanjaroWhen visiting Africa, it is crucial to know where and when you are planning a trip because packing for a holiday in Africa is a more complicated affair than you might think, given that the climate can vary dramatically from region to region. Africa has two seasons, instead of the four we are familiar with in the temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere. They are the dry and rainy seasons. No, you probably won’t need snow boots in May & June, but visiting the northern, eastern, and western side of Africa means that you will almost certainly be rained upon every single day during certain months of the year. If you are visiting Africa in July, you can expect hot and dry weather with extreme temperatures reaching 47 degrees Celsius or 117 F with the night temperatures dipping to -4 degrees Celsius.

What you should know in advance

Rural or urban visit

Holidaying in some parts of Africa can be quite different from a city break or even a rural retreat in Europe. Due to the sheer scale of the continent and the vast unpopulated spaces in many countries, some locations - such as safari holidays - can take you to extremely remote places. If an authentic expedition or adventure holiday is what you are seeking, be prepared for periods of time without Internet, phone signal or even electricity.

In the first instance, you may wish to check with your phone’s internet provider if your contract includes coverage for the country that you’re visiting.

Clothing and culture

When you consider packing clothing for your trip, there are many considerations. It is good to know what your plans entail so you can make the right decisions. If you’re hiking up a mountain, you may want to wear something more than a t-shirt and shorts. The hot days can turn into a cool evening very quickly, so remember to pack a warm sweatshirt or jacket. A hat is very helpful to shade yourself from the hot sun and can also help prevent a nasty sunburn.

Cultural considerations are also important when visiting local areas in Africa. Women may want to pack long skirts or have a sarong ready to cover up bare shoulders depending on the region you are visiting. A head covering is also important if you’re planning to visit local mosques or areas where cultural or religious traditions may differ from your own.

Electricity

Always remember that technology can take on different meanings in different countries of the world. On your packing list, make sure you get a few electrical converters for your electronic equipment. Always get the ones that have surge protectors in them; the electricity output can differ from place to place, and you might just get a nasty surprise and shock when you plug your electronics into the outlet.

Time to eat

Holidaying in a new area might conjure up visions of new delectable treats but, like many parts of the world, you should be cautious about the food that you try in Africa - particularly street food. Nothing can ruin a holiday faster than an upset stomach or food poisoning, so make sure you are extra careful about what you choose to eat.

Food suggestions

African street foodHere are some great tips when eating your next meal:

  • Only eat hot foods when they are hot. Meats should be thoroughly cooked through. Avoid rare and medium-rare cooked meats
  • If the food is served cold, make sure it is a reputable place to ensure that the food has stayed cold the entire time. Do not eat room temperature food; soft or uncooked eggs; rare meats or fish
  • Fresh fruit should only be eaten if you can peel it such as bananas and mangoes.
  • Avoid fresh salad items like lettuce, tomatoes, and celery if you cannot be confident that they have been cleaned properly. Washing salad in dirty water is a prime cause of water-borne diseases.
  • Dry packaged foods are usually safe as long as handled appropriately when opened.
  • Be very cautious about street vendors as they may not have proper food-handling and refrigeration techniques.
  • When on safari, avoid bushmeat (a wild game that is unknown to you). This also means no adventurous eating of bats, rodents or monkeys.

Water and beverages

Living in an industrialised city has many luxuries. Typically, most people in the UK don’t need to worry about the safety of the drinking water from the tap. However, this cannot be assured abroad - as the water from the tap may not be clean. The same also applies when brushing teeth and showering.

Chlorinated and filtered water rarely comes out of the tap in many remote or undeveloped regions of Africa. Freshwater lakes and streams may carry schistosomiasis, a parasitic flatworm, that can cause many stomach complaints and an itchy rash. It is worth remembering that the same rivers and lakes that is used for drinking water may also be used for bathing and laundering clothes. Where sanitation is poor, there is also a chance of waste making its way into the water.

So remember: if it goes anywhere near your mouth, it must be clean and safe for you. Here are some other extra tips to quench your thirst.

  • Bottled or canned drinks are usually considered safe. Use bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth.
  • Avoid ice cubes in your drinks unless you have seen the water poured from a bottle before freezing.
  • Alcoholic beverages should only be served from sealed containers or well-known bartenders to ensure that you are drinking what is listed on the bottle.
  • Be careful when drinking fresh juices as the fruit and juicing equipment may have been washed with unclean water.
  • Pasteurised milk that is sealed is safe to drink. Avoid unpasteurised or fresh milk.
  • Coffee drinkers beware! While hot coffee made with clean water is fine, be very careful about adding fresh cream.
  • Try not to splash water into your mouth when showering or bathing.

Preparing for your health

Mosquitos

After a long day’s travel, you’ll be wanting to find a relaxing bed to stretch out and get some rest. But before you get that much-needed sleep, check to see if you should be sleeping under a mosquito net. According to the Against Malaria Foundation, mosquitos that carry malaria bite most frequently between 10pm and 2am. The mosquito net should be treated with Permethrin that will kill the bugs as well as protect you from the pests.

Bug Repellant is also another way to protect yourself from mosquitoes and flies. Many travellers choose a product with DEET in it – ranging from 7% for children and all the way up to 50% for the most adventurous travellers. There are also DEET-free options using Lemon Eucalyptus oil that can be purchased. No one wants to get bitten by a bug, so using the highest level of DEET protection may seem an obvious choice. But remember, DEET is a potent and toxic chemical. It can erode plastic coatings on clothing and watches and is harmful to breathe in – you may be coughing and feel like your lungs are on fire if you inhale it in.

Vaccines

Your health is one of the most important priorities when planning a trip to Africa, and while you are planning your trip, it is a great time to stop and check your immunisations. The Centre for Disease Control recommends that everyone who visits other countries to have the standard childhood vaccines and ensure that no boosters are missed. These will include the DTaP, MMR & shingles, Polio, Pneumonia, Meningococcal, and HPV vaccines.

Here are the specific vaccines that are recommended for Africa:

  • Hepatitis A and B vaccines,
  • Rabies
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever
  • Meningococcal
  • Cholera vaccine

Medications for your trip

He who cures a disease may be the skillfullest,

but he who prevents it is the safest physician. Thomas Fuller

As Thomas Fuller so poignantly stated back in the 1800s, preventing disease is very important to your health. Because of this, when planning your trip to Africa, you should sit down with your GP, pharmacist or travel clinician and discuss which preventive and prophylactic medications you are going to need for your trip.

Anti-malarial medications

Remember those mosquitos that the nets and the bug spray help to deter? While those are extremely important and should be used by everyone, you still may want to consider taking oral medication to help prevent malaria.

The disease of malaria is carried by mosquitoes, but only a particular type of mosquito. According to the World Health Organization, the Female Anopheles mosquito acquires the parasite Plasmodium when she bites people to get blood to feed her eggs. Then when she bites again (after being infected), the parasites are put into the person’s blood supply. Her bite is not like the annoying mosquito that is itchy and welted-up; no, her bite is a stealthy bite that doesn’t leave a mark.

Because the Female Anopheles bites in the middle of the night, most people do not even know that they have been bitten until a 10-14 days later when the first symptoms start to appear. These can include fever, headache, severe chills, and vomiting. The parasites can also be deadly as they kill red blood cells and then clog up the blood supply to the brain and vital organs (such as the liver or heart).

You should be concerned about malaria if you are visiting parts of Africa, including Chad, Cameroon, Congo, Ghana, and Kenya. Take some time and look at a malaria countries map and see if your travels intersect any of these areas. The risk in particular regions can vary over time and so consulting the WHO website is a good starting point. Some areas are worse than others, but, for example, the high prevalence of malaria in Ethiopia shows that it is one of the countries in which there is a heightened risk of catching the disease as a traveller.

It is also important to note that if you visit an endemic malaria area, some hospitals will not let you donate blood for up to three years after visiting these areas. Also, if by some terrible chance you do get malaria, you will also not be able to donate blood to those in need.

Preventative anti-malarial medications

Killing the Plasmodium parasite in the bloodstream can also be performed by anti-malarial medications. There are three specific medications that most people choose from to take for their anti-malarial needs. These are Doxycycline, Malarone (atovaquone and proguanil hydrochloride), Lariam (mefloquine).malarone malaria treatment

Some medicines are taken daily, and others are taken once a week. They all have positive and negative things that you should be aware of; so it is vital to speak with your pharmacist, travel clinician or GP about which one is best for you. Your medical history, current medications, planned activities, and specifically, where you will be going all determine which medication you should take. An easy way to help understand this information is the website Fit for Travel; it can help you look which medications may fit the best for you.

Anti-diarrhoeal

In some countries, it’s called Montezuma’s Revenge but the more common term for loose stools and stomach issues while abroad is Traveller’s Diarrhoea. But if you get it, you’ll just call it misery. A miserable time of living on the porcelain throne (toilet) and wishing your stomach would just calm down. Food and water-borne diseases can easily be obtained when travelling to different countries as foods may not be cooked as thoroughly as they should be before eating.

Also, if cups and plates that are not cleaned properly, or if the water is not purified correctly, it can cause you to be ill. The bacteria that cause this can be E-coli, Salmonella, or even parasites such a Giardia.

Traveller’s diarrhoea is different than just an upset stomach from too many spicy foods; it is three or more watery stools in 24 hours or less. You can also have nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and many sudden urges to have a bowel movement. Typically, these symptoms are mild-moderate and can last up to five days without treatment. If it lasts more than 5 days, or if you cannot function with the symptoms that are getting worse, then it becomes more severe.

Treatment for diarrhoea

First of all, if you find yourself in this unfortunate position, the primary treatment is treating the possible dehydration. Clear fluids, hydrating drinks (such as Gatorade or Powerade-like drinks that have electrolytes and rehydration salts in them) are the best thing for you. You do need to drink lots and lots of them. Not only with the fluids keep you from getting dehydrated, but they also help to flush out the bacteria.

Secondly, for those who are having the stomach cramping pains, some over-the-counter medications can help calm your stomach down. These would include Loperamide (Immodium) and Bismuth Subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol).

Lastly, there are prescription medicines that your GP or pharmacist may prescribe for you in case you do have worsening symptoms. These would be Lomotil (diphenoxylate and atropine), Azithromycin, and Ciprofloxacin. Lomotil is a stronger medication that specifically helps the colon spasms to calm down; it contains atropine, which is a controlled substance in some areas, so to obtain this, your GP will need to prescribe it.

The other medications, Azithromycin and Ciprofloxacin, are antibiotics that will fight against the bacteria that causes the traveller’s diarrhoea. These medications are not taken like preventative medications, but should only be taken when your GP instructs you to – typically, this is if specific symptoms appear – so, it is important to write down the instructions and put them with the medications so if you do get sick, you will know what you should take.

Conclusion

Travelling to Africa can be the trip of a lifetime with the right preparations. The more you can plan in advance for your time away, the more enjoyable it can be. So get out that packing list and start checking the things off as you get them done. The mountain of Kilimanjaro and the African safari animals are waiting for you! Bon Voyage!

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