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Waterborne Diseases I’ve Dealt With

water borne diseases

It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote a post about keeping perspective on water quality (you can read it here). In this post, I want to share a few of the maladies that I have dealt with while traveling in West Africa.

In 2010, on a trip to Timbuktu, I came down with an awful case of amoebic dysentery. It most likely started when I made the mistake of taking tea, which happened to be warm, that was prepared with water from the Niger river. I didn’t get sick right away, but rather a few days later, when I found myself in a hotel in Timbuktu with diarrhea that was worse than anything I had ever experienced.

The most worrying part of amoebic dysentery is that you can actually see blood in your stool. Needless to say, I was terrified. It would be several more days before I got proper treatment. I tried to self medicate with cipro, an antibiotic, but that was unwise as cipro can only treat bacterial infections. By the time I got to the clinic, I had lost a significant amount of weight, I was dry heaving and I had a fever. I was completely miserable and I honestly felt as if I could die. I course of metronidazole was eventually what cured me and despite the side effects, I am very thankful that this medication exists!

At a later point in time, I had a run in with giardia. This illness produced fewer symptoms, but contributed to sporadic diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss. When I eventually had it treated I had again lost weight. Giardia is particularly worrying because it can persist for a long time without you knowing it. Some people, on the other hand, have more noticeable symptoms.

Of course, I have also had plenty of bouts of your standard traveler’s diarrhea. This is a bacterial infection that usually only lasts for a couple of days. Sometimes, however, it can persist for a longer or manifest itself with severe symptoms. In these cases, I will usually take an antibiotic like cipro for several days. Unfortunately, cipro has a tendency to nuke just about everything in your gut, but it does get the job done in those circumstances where you can’t seem to get better.

The point in all of this is that you need to be careful about where your water comes from and how you treat and purify it if you are required to do so.

Photo credit: wikipedia

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