Preparing for the perils of foreign travel

Michael
Michael Johansen
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I started getting vaccinated less than a week before I left Labrador for Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point of South America.
The first thing I was given at the local clinic was an injection against typhoid, "… a severe systemic disease caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi," which, according to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, I could ingest through contaminated food or drink. If I got it, it would give me a 16 per cent chance of dying and, if I survived, I'd have a two to five per cent chance of becoming a chronic carrier, "… shedding the bacteria in stools for years."
The second thing I received was the first dose of a chalky anti-cholera drink. While not horrible, it didn't taste pleasant, but it would help me avoid catching another kind of water and food-borne bacteria that would give me the worst kind of diarrhea and vomiting, possibly leading to severe dehydration and death.
A few days later, I was given an initial shot to combat Hepatitis B
(I had had innoculations for Hep A, tetanus and diphtheria a couple of months earlier).

Methods of contraction
Hep B can be contracted through sex and by sharing needles, toothbrushes, dental floss or razors, or by getting an organ transplant or blood transfusion. It often results in permanent liver damage and can kill you with liver cancer.
(Hep A, which sneaks into your ice cubes, but also gets you the same way as Hep B, kills one to three of every 1,000 people infected. Tetanus, also known as "lockjaw," usually gets into the skin through small cuts or scrapes and ends with two out of 10 people dying. Diphtheria is spread through sneezes, infects the nose and throat, and can also be fatal.)
Not everything a body needs to fight off a tropical disease is available in Labrador, so I wasn't able to stock up on a few other assorted antibodies until just prior to leaving Canada. The vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella all came together in one syringe. All the viruses that cause them are spewed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Measles and mumps both cause fever. The former gives you rashes and infections, and the latter, swelling of the cheeks. Both can cause brain damage. Rubella causes miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious harms to an unborn child.
After that, I was given the yellow fever vaccine, which is supposed to help protect me for 10 full years against a mosquito-born virus that kills four out of every 10 people it infects. Symptoms, according to the Vancouver Island Health Authority, include "… sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, backache, all-over muscle pain, nausea and vomiting … (and) in serious cases, bleeding from the nose, mouth and intestine(s)." It is prevalent in South America and no traveller may enter Brazil (a major stop along my planned route) without proof of vaccination.

Resisting malaria
Lastly, but unfortunately not leastly, I needed to get a whole bunch of anti-malaria medicine. Only a small part of my trip would be in areas away from the mosquito that carries (according to the Public Health Agency of Canada) the "… one of five different parasites in the Plasmodium family." Malaria, which you can hardly ever get out of your body, gives you fever and nausea and can sometimes put you in a coma or kill you by shutting down your kidneys or lungs.
Unfortunately, after all the money already spent on vaccinations and insurance (no one can afford emergency U.S. health care without being insured), this last expense overtaxed my travel budget. I needed enough for three months at an approximate cost of five dollars per day - not including the doctor's charges. Since the $40
I had left in Canadian currency (to get to where I'd catch my train to El Paso, Texas) wouldn't be enough to cover it, I had to cancel my plans to go south. Instead of seeing Argentina, I ended up in Winnipeg in January.
It wasn't all a waste. I've no doubt I was well protected against any tough Manitoba mosquito that was out in the minus 40-degree weather.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador, but currently in travel mode.

Organizations: Vancouver Island Health Authority, Public Health Agency of Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, South America, Tierra del Fuego Canada Brazil U.S. El Paso, Texas Argentina Winnipeg Manitoba

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  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Not using your imagination Michael , you should have wired home for more money , or, at the very least hit up The Telegram for a pay advance Getting so close , it must be very disappointing . You really are adventuresome . Of course it wasn't all a waste , think of that book you will now be able to write. Happy trails .

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Not using your imagination Michael , you should have wired home for more money , or, at the very least hit up The Telegram for a pay advance Getting so close , it must be very disappointing . You really are adventuresome . Of course it wasn't all a waste , think of that book you will now be able to write. Happy trails .