Tropical Diseases

I am far from knowledgeable on matters medical and, frankly, I have done no research whatsoever for this chapter. However, having contracted most of the diseases listed and discussed here and then having discovered that they were the 'usual' visitor problems, I believe this section will be of some value to the reader who visits Papua New Guinea.

Frankly, Papua New Guinea's health standards have declined since Australian withdrawal. Malaria is on the increase after the government decided to stop aerial spraying of known mosquito areas. Indeed, there is a new strain about which does not respond to normal protective and curative treatments. While the natives naturally keep their huts and grounds scrupulously clean in the village environment, the town dweller tends to be something of a litterbug with hygiene services falling short of demand in many areas.

The situation is far from worrying at the moment and I have no doubt the sagging health services will recover, but with or without top preventative measures against tropical disease, the visitor who remains for a long period — as is common with the cruising yachtsman, is almost certain to contract something. Let us see what that something might be and how it can be arrested.

MALARIA is preventable by taking two quinine derivative tablets per week. Do not overdose yourself. Four times this amount is fatal. Take them religiously at the same time on the same day every week. It is said that by being just a few hours off time their effect can be minimised.

It is said that any preventative measure against malaria merely represses the disease and that it can actually manifest itself years later in any climate at all. This is a very rare occurrence for anyone who does not actually contract the sickness while in the tropics but it can be further avoided by staying out of mosquito-ridden areas. Fortunately Papua New Guinea is not lousy with mosquitoes as is often believed (I swatted about four in six months) unless the visitor anchors in a mangrove swamp or similar.

TROPICAL EAR I doubt if there is a more painful experience than serious ear trouble. I had it for months before and during my visit to Papua New Guinea and know now that it could have been avoided.

Tropical ear is usually contracted by allowing warm sea water to remain in the ear after swimming or diving where the polyps die, fungus forms, and infection sets in. The result of this is, as stated, the most severe pain.

You can prevent it by not going into the water. But that's ridiculous. Everyone will want to leap into the crystal clear water quite regularly in the tropics. So the next best thing is to always wipe your ears out with a tissue or cloth then follow with a couple of squirts of alcohol drops after leaving the water.

If this advice comes too late, or it does not work for some reason or another, go to a doctor who will prescribe antibiotics to be taken internally and to be dripped into the infected ear. Whether you are against antibiotics or not this advice should be taken, because nothing else will effectively prevent the infection developing.

HOOKWORM This is picked up through the soles of the feet from where the worm grows and travels throughout the body having offspring on the way. Our two year old son contracted this disease and because of the ineptitude of the local doctors in identifying the trouble, it developed to a very serious stage where even his lungs were infected, making breathing difficult. This later stage of development also causes fever, extremely high temperature and violent nausea. It is best avoided.

The best prevention is to always wear shoes when going ashore anywhere — especially at a village where pigs and dogs roam freely. If contracted, go to a doctor immediately or to a mission medical post where the staff are familiar with tropical diseases. Do not go to a government medical aid post. The attendant is usually experienced only in doling out drugs, not in advising their best use.

TROPICAL ULCERS Essentially, this is an infection of a wound which is encouraged by flies and scratching or anything that can carry the infection from one part of the body to another. It can be so bad that the ulcers take on the character of large boils which leave ugly scars after they heal.

Tropical ulcers are very difficult to avoid and once having contracted them they tend to stay for about four months until the victim becomes acclimatised.

If prevention is difficult, the control of their spread is not — albeit, it is a nuisance. The best method is to completely seal the infected area under plaster with a pad of antiobotic cream and renew this every time it moves or gets wet. Be absolutely fanatical about keeping the area dry, free of flies, and resist at all costs the temptation to scratch it. If the ulcer gets out of control there is no alternative but to go to a doctor for the prescribing of antibiotics to be taken internally.

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