You know how you hear of stories of “my friend’s friend went to India/Africa/Asia/ExoticLand and got this crazy mystery illness and [insert bodily harm/damage here]…” And at some point you think, “Well, that’s got to be an exaggeration that won’t happen to me…” till it happens to you – that unrecognizable or unbelievable disease that seemed so last century? Well, that’s what just happened to me – a victim of Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. What is it? A virus transmitted from an infected mosquito that wreaks total havoc to your system. Dengue’s bad enough, but this was the doozy kind, the complicated one where you see death rates possibly in the double digits… What I thought was a bad sunburn leading to dizziness and nausea turned out to be a much more serious condition after the Dr. said “Blood Test!” (yes, even JUARA Girl makes sunblock mistakes, knowing all the points from Yoshiko’s entry on sunblock.) What saved my proverbial a**? Catching it on the 2nd day of the fever and being rushed to the hospital to be hooked up to fluids at my mother’s insistence; had I been diagnosed a mere 2 days later, prognosis would have been much, much worse. Let’s just say we might be the JUARA Trio. So – 7 days in the hospital with IV needles up my arms, nausea, rashes, fever, and then some… and then the virus passed. In the process, I was treating a bad sunburn with Tamarind Tea Hydrating Toner (oil-free, cooling hydration) daily. I was a lucky one and got discharged just today. Others who “didn’t do so well,” as my sister-in-law says, aren’t around to tell the tale. So what went wrong though? How the heck did I get it anyway, me, the supposed comfortable bi-global traveler? When your brother’s advice is “Don’t Die,” should I feel like I had overlooked something?
Let’s face it – bad things happen to good people. Or lots of things happen to good people, some of it just bad. Like overzealous UV rays that give sunburns and lower your immune system. Or mosquitoes that give you deadly viruses. Or the occasional typhoid that you get from a dirty cup (oh, that was so 2008…) Sometimes it’s really just a part of life, and so I realize the key is to KEEP YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM STRONG!!! A few interesting tips I am walking away with to be on my preventative well-being list, some mainstream, some more traditional Indonesian…
– Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water and keep your electrolyte levels happy – your system functions better when hydrated. If you are in SE Asia, there are many new ‘electrolyte’ drink but a good standby that’s not a sugar bomb: Pocari Sweat; it’s like local Gatorade (but Japanese inspired.) Also, when buying bottled water, (I only saw this in China though where people were refilling used water bottles and selling as new…) make sure the seal hasn’t been broken and that your bottle of water is really, truly new/unopened.
– Use plenty of sunblock. REAPPLY FREQUENTLY. I made the mistake of going into the beach for only 2 hours with not enough sunblock in a haze of silliness, then played in the water and burned like a mad – since I was so dehydrated from wedding festivities the night before, which REALLY doesn’t help either. Bad sunburns reduce your immune system too and that is no joke. And that makes you more vulnerable to a whole other host of potential illnesses like typhoid, or cholera, or even good ol’ Montezuma’s revenge… (traveler’s diarrhea.)
– Drink red guava juice, the fleshy kind with the million seeds: Keeps your blood healthy, it’s more a traditional remedy but I’ve never drunk so much in the last 6 days, and it did help… It helped maintain energy levels from draining. On that note, eat a ton of fruit. The tropics has PLENTY of variety to keep you delightfully satiated. (Bird’s nest + ginseng is another price concoction but works wonders too.)
– Get enough sleep. Nuff said. The problem with a compromised immune system is that you don’t know it until something hits you that normally shouldn’t or wouldn’t – and when you’re traveling, there’s always so much excitement that sometimes our adrenaline keeps us going longer than it should, and with jet lag for many, the first few days are filled with a haze of odd sleep hours.
– Wear mosquito repellent if you think there are ANY mosquitoes around. Malaria is prevalent in areas where the water is dirty, and Dengue lies where the water is clean. (Stagnant pools of water like little ponds after a rain, or an unmaintained swimming pool…) So you’re screwed wherever you are in tropical zone, really. You can give people Dengue by being sick and around mosquitoes that might bite your infected self, then transmit to your pal or child nearby… This wasn’t so much an issue in the past but lately, if you’re traveling to tropical areas, the infection count has hit near epidemic proportions so it’s worth the precaution…
So, stick with those basics when traveling in tropical land (or at least Indonesia) and you’ll probably be OK. The slightest sign of what might even be a cold, check it out – because it just might be not your common cold in ye lively parts! Good luck and happy travels!