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Tanzania: Illness & Disease

As in most African countries, the AIDS/HIV infection rate is high. Tanzania’s HIV/AIDS infection rate was 9% at the end of 2003 UNAIDS. This figure is deceiving, however, since several distinct segments of the population, such as artisanal miners, itinerant fisherman, truck drivers, and sex workers, have HIV infection rates significantly higher than the national average. Do not have unprotected sex in Tanzania or anywhere else, for that matter.

After food-borne illnesses, malaria should be your greatest concern. Malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes and is endemic to Tanzania. You may find yourself at risk in almost every part of the country, although this risk is diminished at altitudes above 2000 m. Care should always be taken between sunset and sunrise, especially during the rainy season. Always sleep under a treated net; wear trousers and closed footwear, and use an effective repellent. It’s amazing, but many large hotels don’t automatically install mosquito nets in their rooms. However, a call to the reception requesting one is seldom ignored. In some cases, the nets have several large holes, but a bit of adhesive tape or tying a small knot to cover the hole should do the trick.

Prior to leaving for Tanzania, you may also wish to consult a physician about taking some anti-malarial medication — before, during, and after your trip. If, in spite of your best efforts, you do contract malaria, it is usually easily treated with medication that is readily available throughout most of the country. If you plan on being in isolated locations, you may wish to drop by a clinic and purchase a batch. Note that symptoms associated with malaria can take up to two weeks before manifesting themselves. The rule of thumb for ex-pats living in Tanzania is this: Any fever lasting more than a day should be cause for concern and necessitate a trip to the clinic for a malaria test. Upon your return home, should you show signs of possible malaria infection, notify your doctor that you’ve visited a malaria-infected country.

Other major illnesses to avoid are typhoid and cholera. In theory, typhoid can be avoided by carefully selecting food and drink and by avoiding consumption of anything unclean. Typhoid infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , is marked by ‘persistent, high fevers…headache, malaise, anorexia, splenomegaly, and relative bradycardia.’

Cholera infection is marked by vomiting and sudden, uncontrollable bowel movements, which can dehydrate and ultimately kill the sufferer within 48 hours. It is important to seek medical attention as quickly as possible. Cholera is more or less a seasonal phenomenon in Zanzibar, where outbreaks frequently occur during the rainy seasons. Vaccines and/or oral prevention are available for both typhoid and cholera.

Yellow fever is an acute viral disease transmitted through the bite of a particular mosquito. Although not as common as malaria, it is nonetheless a serious disease, and travellers to Africa should consult a physician about being vaccinated against it. If you plan on travelling to other countries after your stay in Tanzania, be advised that some countries, such as South Africa, may require proof that you’ve been vaccinated against Yellow Fever before allowing you to enter the country. If you aren’t or can’t prove it, you will be offered two options: 1) receive the Yellow Fever vaccination at the airport, and 2) immediately leave the country. WARNING: The Yellow Fever vaccine can have serious side effects for some people. Therefore, you may wish to get the vaccine in your home country, under controlled conditions. Most physicians will not administer the Yellow Fever vaccine to children under the age of 1 year, and a letter from a physician explaining this will ensure that your infant child will not receive the vaccine at the airport. NOTE:- People travelling to Tanzania from INDIA, There is an acute shortage of the yellow fever vaccine in India so please get yourself vaccinated at the airport in Dar-es-salaam as soon as you land there.

Gastrointestinal Distress, a.k.a. traveller’s diarrhoea is the result of one, some, or all the following factors: Unhygienic food preparation and storage, changes in diet, fatigue, dehydration, and excessive alcohol consumption. Prevention is your best defence. Eat only raw vegetables and fruits you can peel and which have been rinsed in clean water. Avoid street or restaurant food that appears to have been left in the open for an extended period of time. Eat only freshly fried or steamed food. You should drink only bottled water, which is available throughout the country. You should even brush your teeth with it. If you must drink tap or well water, boil it for a minimum of 10 minutes or use a high-quality filter.

Rift Valley Fever: In January 2007, there was an outbreak of RVF in the Kilimanjaro area. Consumption of unpasteurized milk and improperly cooked meat from infected cows led to a number of deaths in the area. Following the deaths, beef sales dropped sharply all over the country, despite the limited scope of the infection. In general, meat served in upscale restaurants is of superior quality. However, care should be taken when indulging in street foods or when eating in remote areas.

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