It’s 9:27 in the morning. I know this because I have looked at my phone’s clock every 30 seconds for the last five minutes. Our departure time is 9:30, and though it seems like time is standing still, my bowels are speeding for the finish line.
We’re on a connecting flight to New Delhi from a small town in Kerala, India, where my new Norwegian friend, Fredrik, and I have just spent some time eating pineapple on the beach, chatting with men in skirts -- and throwing up violently into buckets.
My stomach gurgles. “Ma’am, can I please use the restroom?,” I ask a passing flight attendant for the second time, who’s checking to make sure we’re wearing our seatbelts. “It’s an emergency.” “No miss, we are about to depart. Not safe,” she says, sternly. “It’s an emergency,” I repeat, wiping sweat off my forehead from my 102-degree fever, trying to ignore dirty looks from passengers around me.
Fredrik puts his hand on my back and chuckles to himself. “Yeah, real fucking funny,” I say, “I’m about to sh-“ and before I could even finish my warning, my greatest fear has come to fruition: I shit my goddamn pants in seat 17C. The following three hours I have fully blacked out of my memory, but am told they include a lot of sobbing, laughing, disapproving glares, and about four hundred apologies.
Turns out I had Cryptosporidium (also known as “Crypto”), one of the least-appealing bugs that you can come down with while traveling. And yet it’s far from the worst, truth be told. If you’re ever traveling to far-flung locales, I damn sure don’t want you to die, and nor do I want anyone else to have to go through the emotional trauma of hearing a fellow passenger scream “You’ll never get married!” because you defiled an entire airplane.
Here’s how to recognize -- and altogether avoid! -- six of the most common diseases travelers are likely to encounter, in the words of travelers who’ve actually had ‘em. Read this so you don’t crap your pants in front of strangers. I do it for the people!
What it’s like to get malaria
Why, it’s only the deadliest parasitic disease in the world, killer of a million people a year. One mosquito bite is all it can take across large regions of Africa and South Asia, parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Oceania. I got malaria when I was volunteering in Uganda (read: I’m better than you), and, as someone who’s lived through it, I can safely say: It sucks ass. I spoke with my boss in Uganda, April Gulley -- she now works at an importer called Ubuntu Trade -- about her experience with this disease. Between the two of us, we’re giving you the what’s what.
Symptoms: Occur about 7 to 30 days after the bite. You’ll be a sweaty mess with on and off fevers, headaches, chills, and a distinctive, sharp shooting pain from the base of your neck to the bottom of your spine. A good way to tell it’s malaria is that symptoms will come and go.
How to avoid it: “Because it comes from mosquitoes, there’s not a whole lot you can do besides wear bug repellent and use a net while you sleep at night,” Gulley says. “Avoid brightly colored clothing.” Neither of us took preventative medicine, like Malarone, because the tablets are not 100% effective and can have rough side effects: bad sleep, nightmares, relapses of depression, dizziness, a generally sick feeling. Still, there’s no vaccine for malaria, so if you’re going to the tropics, taking preventative medicine might be your best option. Discuss with a doctor.
How to treat it: “If you have access to a clinic, they can do a rapid malaria test and let you know within minutes if you’ve got it,” Gulley says. “Then you’ll take meds for a few days. I think the total cost for the clinic test and pills was around $20, but $6 for pills only.” Fun fact: Once you have malaria, you always have it. It lays dormant in your body and can wake up when you’re old and kill you. Found your next villain, Marvel.