Avoid the Ebola – Third World Travel

Putzi Fly


This is a Putzi fly larvae.  It’s gross.  It was in my living area.

To be totally honest – this was not only in my living area, it was in my dog.  It was not in me – THIS TIME – nor was it in one of my children – THIS TIME.

But I do personally know four different children that have been so afflicted.  Plus there was this lady who visited The Gambia and brought some home.  I particularly love the headline about FLESH EATING MAGGOTS!!!!OMG!!11!!

So why, Ms. Fresno, are you telling us about FLESH EATING MAGGOTS!!!!111!!  Did you have one?  Are you about to pass us some tips on how to get those suckers out of your dermal layer, or -even better – tell us how to complete avoid dealing with wriggling cannibalistic larvae erupting from our skin?

No.  But yes, I can.  And you can’t.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of African zombie larvae, I do want to apologize for a long absence.  You see, there are things other than Putzi flies that can cause issues for travelers to less developed areas (and one of them is crocodiles – that picture of the woman petting a croc in the linked Daily Mail article gives me hives).  In my case it was a fungus of some sort that I breathed in and then spread throughout my system.

The Congolese doctor I visited was very nonchalant about the revolting rash and itching that erupted over my entire body, “Don’t scratch it, Madame,” he told me.  And then he asked me for tips on visiting New York City and cheap hotel recommendations.

He also prescribed me anti-fungal tablets which did quite the shred job on my kidneys.  Lucky for me the rash and incessant itching disappeared, the revolting ick that was coating my hair went away, and three weeks after I finished the round of medications I was able to enjoy a delightful gin and tonic with no aftereffects.   I liked it so much I had two more.

So, yes.  Third World travel.  You might encounter malaria and yellow fever, putzi flies, weird fungi, and angry baboons (don’t ask), but dude.

Victoria Falls.

Vic Falls

That is the Zimbabwe side, by the way.  Gorgeous.  Amazing.

And also really very wet.  Beyond umbrella wet.  I got less wet at Wild Water Adventures in Clovis, CA.

But back to the topic at hand:  how to avoid icky things as much as possible in Third World Travel (which is actually quite safe and adventurous and should not be avoided in fear of the unknown).

1)  Don’t drink the local water.  Dave Matthews was right.  Let that echo through your brain at a constant rate.  DON’T.  DRINK.  THE.  WATER.

Anyplace you go will have oodles of bottles of purified water.  That is what you need to be using.  There are bacteria, there are contaminants, and most likely there is a liberal sprinkling of poo in the local water supplies.  I don’t care what type of fetish you carry around at home in the First World, but believe me when I say you really don’t want to be drinking Third World poo.

A funny side story to this – we visited Barcelona, Spain after an extended time in Africa.  My kids were enchanted with the idea of drinking water straight out of the tap.  It’s so adventurous!  Dangerous!  On the edge!

They mentioned this to a lady in the hallway who then answered in concern, “But are you sure the water here is safe to drink?”

The answer was yes, by the way.  Barcelona = yes.  Sierra Leone = no.

2)  Get ALL the shots.

Really.  I mean all of them.  “Oh, but Fresno,” you say with that tone of on-upsmanship.  “I’m going to Liberia and I know THREE people who went there last year with doctor’s notes about medical conditions that allowed them to travel without the yellow fever vaccine.  Not a ONE of them got sick!  It’s totally unnecessary if you take the proper precautions!”

Bless your heart.

I get that some people have heebie jeebies about certain vaccines.  Whatever.  You know what skeeves me out more than vaccines?  Yellow fever.   Did you read that part about vomiting blood?  Because you might want to read it twice.

We’ve got a nice, safe little oasis from horrible diseases in most First World places, and we cannot take that mindset with us when we visit places like, oh, Guinea.  Which is currently experiencing an Ebola outbreak.  So maybe delay those particular travel plans a bit, because no vaccine.

3)  Mefloquine.  Or no mefloquine.  Malarone, maybe.  Definitely mosquito nets.

I have not yet (knock on wood, throw salt, spit, lucky rabbit’s foot, etc) had to deal with malaria.  I’ve spent, total, more than two years in various places where malaria is endemic and have thus far been lucky.   I have one friend who contracted malaria after a mere three weeks in a malarial endemic area during the off season!  My point with that is that even if you think you have the malaria bases covered, much like yellow fever vaccines, you probably don’t and there’s quite an element of luck involved.

Malaria Test
My negative malaria test. We’re looking for one line, two is a disaster.

Anti-malarials affect some people in a quite extreme manner.  I have a tendency toward migraines, and after two weeks of mefloquine, not only was I getting to the point where I couldn’t tell what was a vivid dream and what was actual real life, but I couldn’t get out of bed or turn on the lights for the head pain.

Not everyone can take anti-malarials.  If you can and you know you are going to be stomping around the bush and rustling up all sorts of nasty bits and pieces, DO.  If you can’t, be quadruple sure that you are stocked up on mosquito spray, tea tree shampoo/conditioner, netting for beds, and those plug in thingies that send anti-mosquito chemicals into the air.

I’m not advocating visiting Chernobyl – but believe me, the anti-mosquito chemicals are MUCH less harmful on your body than, you know.  Malaria.

4)  Putzi flies are gross – iron all your clothes.

Here’s the deal – putzi flies lay their eggs in fabric and dirt that is damp.  Then when the fabric/dirt dries out they wait.  And when that fabric gets all moist with sweat again, or some sweaty person sits on the grass growing on the eggy dirt, the larvae think you look like a delicious buffet and make themselves at home.  And eat.  And grow.  And eat.  And grow.  Just to reiterate – they are eating YOU.  And they are growing IN you.

But putzi eggs and larvae cannot stand high heat.  So you iron everything before you wear it.  Barring that, you stick it in the drier for a bit.

And yes, everything.  Do you really want to run the risk of not ironing underwear?  Think about that really hard for a bit.

I considered linking to YouTube so you all can see putzi flies getting extracted, but really.  It’s really unnecessary.

Feel free to read this removal guide, though.

5)  Don’t eat bush meat.

I don’t care what pictures you were enamored of in National Geographic while you were growing up – don’t buy meat on a stick by the side of the road in the Third World.  It’s nothing you’ve ever had occasion to eat before, I promise.  Unless you’ve spent a large amount of time in Africa and your stomach has quite adjusted, don’t.

Plus, bush meat (specifically bat, but the thing about bush meat is you never really know what it is you’re eating) is how they think Ebola is spread.  So don’t.

Get some shawarma.  There are shawarma places everywhere.

Warning people about Third World travel can make it sound like a terrifying place – just remember that we get these warnings because most people aren’t familiar with these places.  I’ve talked to people in Africa just as worried about safety traveling to Los Angeles (crime!  gangs!  earthquakes! falling into the ocean!) as some Americans going to Africa.

Just don’t drink the water.

*Entertainment Reading on Africa:  The Witch Doctor’s Wife             *Scholarly Reading on Africa:  The Fate of Africa                                            *Africa Travelogue:  Zanzibar to Timbuktu

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