Common backpacker illnesses and how to avoid them

Traveling around the world with a backpack, leaving the comfort of healthcare back home isn’t the best way to safeguard oneself from diseases.

But what’s life without a little risk?

Any great backpacking adventure, however, can be derailed if one is sick and it is to help you stay illness-free that we at Travset have created this guide for you. Do however remember that the list below is non-exhausting and all precautions should be taken to ensure your safety.

1. Travelers diarrhea

Known by many ominous names such as Delhi belly, Bali belly and Montezuma’s revenge, traveler’s diarrhea is a sickness that plagues many backpackers.

Usually caused by consuming bacteria riddled food or contaminated water, traveler’s diarrhea is characterized by intense stomach cramps and indigestion. It is also brought on by consuming food that the stomach is not used to such as extremely spicy food.

Traveler’s diarrhea is debilitating and puts all plans on hold till traveler recovers.

How to prevent- take a look at our guide on traveler’s diarrhea, its causes, and means of recovery.

2. Deep vein thrombosis

More popularly known by its acronym DVT, Deep vein thrombosis tends to occur when an individual is still for long periods of time (as in a long haul flight). Such inactivity for extended periods of time has been known to form clots within the deep veins of the legs, resulting in swelling and pain.

This condition if left untreated could lead to complications such as pulmonary embolisms, which are essentially blood clots that block the blood vessels in the lungs.

How to prevent- get active and refrain from lying inactive for extended periods of time. Certain medications are also known to expedite DVT, so it is best to consult your local GP prior to travel in order to minimize your risk.

3. Heat exhaustion and stroke

Usually caused by body exposure to high temperatures and demanding conditions, heat exhaustion is a condition in which the individual affected should be cooled immediately. Prolonged exposure to what gave rise to the exhaustion has been known to lead to heart strokes which are a far more serious medical condition.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion as per the UK National Health Service includes headache dizziness, loss of appetite, feeling sick, excessive sweating, clammy skin cram, fast breathing, pulse temperature of 38C or above intense thirst.

How to prevent- consume cold water or rehydrating sports drinks during periods of extreme heat. Try to avoid the sun when it’s at its zenith during the day and wear light-colored clothes that allow your skin to breathe.

4. Sunburn

Sunburn occurs with prolonged exposure to UV rays from the sun.

The skin when sunburnt takes on a red hue and is warm and sore to touch. The burn, however, will recover in a couple of days.

Do however be careful as extreme burns from the sun could lead to heat exhaustion and has been known to be a contributing factor for more serious skin problems such as accelerated drinking and skin cancer.

How to prevent- apply sunscreen that suitable for your skin and blocks both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. Wear light-colored clothes that let your air in and hats with wide brims.

5. Insect bites and stings

Insect bites and stings are very common in the more tropical parts of the world.

Most of them are harmless, but some, however, are not.

Mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Malaria. Chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis are very serious diseases and can prove to be fatal if left untreated.

How to prevent- apply insect repellent and avoid areas infested with mosquitoes. Stay up to date on your vaccinations and ensure you receive a check-up at any signs of the above diseases.

6. Sexually transmitted diseases

Protecting yourself against sexually transmitted diseases in your travels is very important.

Remember, being away from home does not make you immune nor justify risky sexual behavior.

How to prevent- read out a blog post on sexual health advice for backpackers.

7. Jet lag

Jet lag occurs when one crosses multiple time zones in rapid sequence, disturbing the body’s internal clock and the 24 hours (approximate) circadian rhythm it controls.

Symptoms include

Reduced physical and mental performance
Disturbance of bowel movements
Daytime sleepiness
Inability to sleep at night in the new location

How to recover- hop onto our blog post on beating jet lag.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
DVT (Deep vein thrombosis)
Jet lag