Health

You might think that get­ting too close to a lion is the only worry you’ll have on an African sa­fari, but there are plenty of hid­den dan­gers to look out for, says Dr Jane Wil­son-howarth

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Plenty of hid­den dan­gers lurk in the bush... but Dr Jane will help keep you safe on your next sa­fari

When plan­ning a first African sa­fari, it’s worth think­ing about your health needs in ad­vance. Even the sea­sons (which vary across the con­ti­nent) can af­fect how you pro­tect your­self. For ex­am­ple, South­ern Africa is dry and rel­a­tively cold from April to Oc­to­ber, when there are fewer mosquitoes and the malaria risk is lower. Whereas in the east the bit­ing sea­son is at its high­est be­tween April and June.

Risk can even vary within coun­tries. Although South Africa is largely malaria free, its Kruger NP isn‘t, and vis­i­tors to nearly ev­ery African game park will need to take an­ti­malar­ial tablets. But malaria pre­ven­tion is more than just swal­low­ing pills.

It is im­por­tant to bring the right cloth­ing. Cover­alls – es­pe­cially if proofed with a con­tact in­sec­ti­cide such as Lifesys­tems’ EX4 – will help re­duce bites, aca­cia scratches and sun­burn. Clothes also need to blend in (avoid white and red) so as not to alert the wildlife, and re­mem­ber that blue at­tracts tsetse flies.

Stout footwear also helps to pro­tect you, as well as re­duc­ing the chances of turn­ing an an­kle when on walk­ing sa­faris at the ends of the day in poor light. Bush hats are good for keep­ing the sun off your face and out of your eyes, and can pre­vent ear-tops and the backs of necks from burn­ing – two sites where skin can­cers are com­mon.

Show a lit­tle re­spect

Clearly Africa boasts a huge range of wildlife that is will­ing and able to harm an un­wary hu­man, but it is im­por­tant to be aware that nearly all an­i­mals are able to de­fend them­selves.

A ranger once told me the story of a 50cm-tall klip­springer an­te­lope that found its way into a fenced camp in Kruger NP, where­upon one vis­i­tor told his daugh­ter to go close so that he could pho­to­graph them. The lit­tle buck felt cor­nered and, in leap­ing past the man, slashed his thigh with its tiny horns. The lac­er­a­tion needed twodozen stitches in the lo­cal hospi­tal.

Park guides know their wildlife and un­der­stand what spooks which species. Chit-chat and ig­nor­ing warn­ings not only mean see­ing less but can put a whole group in dan­ger.

Once bit­ten, don’t be shy

Close con­tact with wildlife can carry a ra­bies risk. Vervet mon­keys of­ten raid pic­nic ta­bles, and it’s not worth risk­ing a scratch to fight them for a sand­wich. Bats, too, are a threat as they hunt the bugs drawn to camp lights and can get dis­com­bob­u­lated.

One very sad re­port from 2007 in­volved a woman scratched on the face by a bat while she was wash­ing one evening in Tsavo West Na­tional Park in Kenya. Hav­ing cleaned the wound, park war­dens and per­son­nel at the nearby health fa­cil­ity as­sured her that, lo­cally, ra­bies was only known to be car­ried by dogs and cats. Con­se­quently, she did not go for her ra­bies shots. Symp­toms be­gan 23 days later and she died in a hospi­tal in the Nether­lands 45 days after the scratch.

Rec­om­mended post-bite/scratch wound care in­volves scrub­bing un­der run­ning wa­ter with plenty of soap for five min­utes, then flood­ing it with al­co­hol and seek­ing the cor­rect jabs.

The last word

A trip to an African game park re­quires some pre­cau­tions, in­clud­ing wear­ing long, loose cloth­ing (ide­ally proofed with EX4), Deet-based re­pel­lent and the con­sump­tion of doxy­cy­cline, meflo­quine or Malarone an­ti­malar­i­als. It isn’t vi­tal to have pre-sa­fari ra­bies jabs, but it is cru­cial to visit a good clinic if bit­ten. The Dutch woman cited would have sur­vived if she had gone for post-bite jabs on reach­ing home nine days after the scratch (14 days be­fore symp­toms be­gan).

Howarth lives in Dr Jane Wil­son- read her blog at Nepal; you can com www.wil­son-howarth.

Up close & homi­ci­dal Buf­falo can look docile, but if you crowd them you’ll soon re­alise those horns aren’t or­na­men­tal; ( be­low) vervet mon­keys need no in­vi­ta­tion to get close, and any scratches or bites from en­coun­ters will re­quire ra­bies jabs

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