Travel broadens the mind. It also loosens the bowels. —Traveler's Health
Dennis and I made it through North America and Europe with excellent health. Africa, we were warned, would be a different story. We were virtually guaranteed by the leaders of our expedition that we'd get some kind of diarrheal disease during our stay there, and we were prepared with various medications.
Most others in the group succumbed before we did. I had a few hours of feeling sick in the desert, but found oral rehydration salts to be a miracle cure. One book I read said that in the Sahara, a person can sweat over 10% of his body weight each day, up to 3 liters per hour. The moisture vaporizes immediately, not even forming liquid perspiration, so it's hard to tell you're becoming dehydrated.
In mid-December, things changed. We both came down with diarrhea, which, though not acute, persisted virtually unabated for the remaining months in Africa. We first tried fasting, to "starve the bug out" (recommended by trip leaders), then took the medication we had brought as well as a course of Flagyl. There was no lasting improvement.
Finally, in Bangui, Dennis went to a doctor, who recommended taking a full course of sulfa drugs. Unfortunately, we weren't there long enough for the proper tests to be done. The sulfa didn't help.
I was becoming discouraged, and decided to try the only thing I hadn't done yet, fast completely for 48 hours. After that I was as sick as ever, and a lot thinner. I weighed just 118 pounds instead of my normal 135.
I went to a doctor in Kisangani. He did various tests, but again, we would not be around long enough to get the results. The only thing he found wrong was that I had malaria.
Malaria?!!! I couldn't believe it. I was eating again and felt fine, despite the persistent diarrhea.
I told Dennis he'd better get checked. His blood test also showed malarial parasites. We thought back to the blood-filled mosquito we'd found in our tent one morning. She'd slipped in through a tiny rip in the screen and feasted on our blood while we slept.
The doctor prescribed heavy doses of chloroquine and another type of sulfa drug for the diarrhea. The worst sickness I experienced the whole trip was caused by the chloroquine. The first day for me was not unpleasant. Sounds were sharp and clear, colors bright and vivid, and I felt bubbly. The rest of the week was terrible. We were both dizzy, had trouble focusing our eyes, and were sick to our stomachs. Whenever we stood up, we experienced vertigo. I wanted nothing more than to sleep and rest.
We were told that the malaria had been detected in good time, and proper medication would prevent symptoms or relapse. We never did have fevers or other symptoms, but four other people on the truck definitely had malaria. Two had to spend time in the hospital.
In Nairobi, we were finally in one place long enough to get a proper diagnostic test and its results. We felt a lot better by then.
"We found no pathogens," said the doctor. "You must have a simple case of traveler's diarrhea."
For three months? It seemed unlikely, but who can argue about a clean bill of health?
Go on to Sidelights
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony