From #foodporn to #beachporn, travel promises an array of alluring, Instagram-ready experiences. But you know what no one ever shows you on their Instagram feed? The all-too real, and all-too common, travel illnesses that we often pick up along the way.
Anyone who has eaten something questionable, taken a cruise, traveled to a developing nation or visited a country with a high density of mosquitos has likely, more than once, experienced a travel illness.
The good news is, these illnesses are often incredibly common and recognizable — so you can catch them right away or, better yet, prevent them entirely.
This is likely the illness most of us have experienced, seeing as its is the most common travel sickness out there, affecting an incredible 10 million people a year.
You're more likely to catch this while traveling in countries that are still developing, but it can also occur when your body consumes new bacteria in food that it isn't typically used to. It's common to get traveler's diarrhea in regions like Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East and most of Asia.
The good news is that traveler's diarrhea tends to go away on its own. But be careful of dehydration, and drink plenty of fluids.
And if you start to experience more severe symptoms like intolerable pain, persistent vomiting for more than four hours, a high fever, blood in your stool or dehydration? It's time to see a doctor.
About 1,700 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States annually, and most of these are among returned travelers, according to the CDC. Across the globe, malaria causes 350-500 million infections and approximately 1 million deaths annually.
You’re at higher risk of catching Malaria in countries with a high density of mosquitos, which transmit the disease. This includes most of Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, South Pacific and South Asia.
How will you know you have it? Symptoms of malaria tend to set in about a week to a month after the bite. And yes, one bite is all it takes. Expect symptoms similar to the flu.
The good news is you can definitely ward it off with preventative medicine like Malarone. The bad news is these pills aren’t always 100 percent effective and are seriously powerful, with side effects like nightmares, nausea and depression.
Hitting the high seas on a luxury cruise can be the trip of a lifetime...unless, of course, the ship has an outbreak of norovirus, rapidly turning your dream trip into a ship of terror. Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can affect anyone, especially if people are indoors and within close proximity of one another. (Don’t worry too much, though; last year, only five ships had norovirus outbreaks.)
Symptoms of norovirus typically appear 12 to 48 hours after being exposed, and improve within 1 to 3 days.
If you've been infected with norovirus, it's best to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea.
This is a disease you are likely familiar with – probably not from personal experience, but because it was splashed over media headlines for the better part of a year.
Zika literally erupted on the scene in 2016 when it turned into a global threat, permeating Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean, Central America, the Pacific and South America. The outbreak caused more than half a million suspected cases.
Zika is notorious for its effects on fetuses, causing a defect called microcephaly, and other brain defects. During its 2016 outbreak, more than 3,700 congenital birth defects were reported as a result of it.
The good news? Reported cases have declined significantly since 2016. And if you are not pregnant or considering becoming pregnant in the near future, you should pull through Zika just fine.
Zika is spread through mosquito bites, and many people infected will have mild symptoms. Symptoms can last several days to a week, and once you've been infected, you are likely to become immune from future infections.
If you've been infected with Zika, the best thing to do is to get plenty of rest and hydrate. Do not take aspirin or anti-inflammatories.
Tetanus is most common in developing countries that don't have access to the vaccine, and you very likely aren't at risk if you've had the vaccine yourself, as is recommend by most doctors.
But on the chance you haven't been vaccinated, you can get tetanus with a puncture wound to the skin by non-sterile objects, animal bites or burns. The tetanus bacteria is found in dirt, dust, soil and fecal matter, and travels up the nerves to cause muscular stiffness.
The bad news is tetanus, if left untreated, can be fatal. The good news is that risk of tetanus is low for citizens of the U.S. because we tend to get vaccinated for it. There are only 30 reported cases in the U.S. each year, and according to the CDC, "nearly all" are among those who have never received a vaccine. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control similarly reports that tetanus is "predominantly a disease of unvaccinated or partly vaccinated risk groups."
That said, you will need a booster every 10 years, and if you think you have been infected, a doctor might recommend a tetanus shot if you haven't had a booster in 5 years.
Crypto (cryptosporidiosis) is a disease caused by parasites that can cause some serious explosive gastrointestinal side effects. It lives in the intestines of humans and animals, and is passed from one infected person to the next via stool.
You'll generally start to experience symptoms seven days after becoming infected, and the symptoms last about one to two weeks. Interestingly, though, some people experience no symptoms at all.
After about two weeks, the illness tends to pass from the system. But it is important to remember to stay hydrated, especially since diarrhea is the most common side effect.
If you thought this disease died with the Oregon Trail, you're in for a rude awakening. Cholera is alive and well anywhere where there’s inadequate water treatment, poor sanitation and lack of hygiene. Places with higher risk of cholera include parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, Africa and South Asia.
Cholera is a diarrheal illness that causes 2.9 million infections each year. Often the infection is mild, but it can get serious without treatment. Symptoms appear anywhere from a few hours to five days after infection.
Risk of cholera is very low if simple precautions are observed. Drink only bottled or chemically treated water, wash your hands often, and eat foods that are packaged or freshly cooked and served hot. If you happen to get cholera, it can be treated by immediate replacement of fluid and salts.
What happens on the trip stays on the trip – unless, of course, it comes back to haunt you in the form of a pesky STI.
While STIs aren’t travel-specific, they can happen when meeting new people during travel adventures and having a little fun. As such, it’s incredibly important to remember to practice safe sex (good life advice no matter what country you’re in!).
Different infections have different incubation periods and symptoms; you can read about each of them individually here. But the best way to prevent them is to always (always, ALWAYS) wear a condom, and to make sure you get tested on a regular basis so you are aware of your own sexual health.
Giardiasis is caused by a parasite that spreads through personal contact with others who have been infected. It can be transmitted from changing a child's diaper, working with children or unprotected sex with someone who has been infected.
While it can be found all over the world, you are more likely to come into contact with the parasite in developing countries that lack sanitary conditions. The most common way to contract the disease is to drink contaminated water, whether from swimming pools, spas or bodies of water. As with crypto, some people carry the disease without experiencing any symptoms.
In many instances, giardiasis will go away on its own. If the infection is intense or lasts longer than usual, a doctor might prescribe anti-parasitic medications like Metronidazole.
This is probably not a disease you thought you'd have to ward off in the 21st century, but it's still kicking in parts of the world, specifically Asia, Central/South America and sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, worldwide, it’s one of the top 10 causes of death.
TB is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air via coughing, sneezing and even speaking. The bacteria attacks the respiratory system, but it can also affect the kidney, spine and brain.
TB disease can be treated by taking several drugs for six to nine months. It is imperative that those who have TB disease are treated, finish the medicine, and take the drugs exactly as prescribed to prevent bacteria from becoming resistant to the drugs.
Ah yes, another gift from the mosquito.
Dengue is a tropical disease also borne from our winged friends (mosquitos are by far the most dangerous animals in the world). It is most prevalent in India, Southeast Asia, Southern China and Africa, but can also be contracted in Central/South America and Mexico.
It's a virus, so treatment is limited. However it is recommended to stay hydrated. For quick pain relief, acetaminophen tablets are often recommended over aspirin, which can worsen bleeding.
Sadly there is no vaccine against dengue, but a heavy bath in bug repellent is a legitimate option.
West Nile Virus
Fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, swollen lymph glands, rash on the chest, stomach or back
If you haven't been sufficiently terrified of mosquitos yet, allow us one more opportunity.
West Nile Virus is yet another illness caused by mosquito bite, typically found in regions like East Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Eight in 10 people who contract the virus show no symptoms of it.
The good news is most people recover completely, though attendant fatigue can last for months. There is no vaccine or specific antiviral for West Nile, but over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to reduce fever.