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So planning has begun in earnest now. Ranging from wishful window shopping and looking at backpacking toys I really don’t need (another backpack? Slap) to more sensible things like travel insurance, visas and vaccinations. The latter being today’s topic du jour.

I would far rather make my own new and completely unique disaster stories, thank you very much.

It should come as little surprise that a journey from the first world comforts of Cape Town (where the worst danger you might face might be mild indigestion from too much exceptional seafood and a sedentary lifestyle) to the decidedly not first world amenities of the space between Addis Ababa and Khartoum may contain hazards. Some of these hazards are due more to banditry or vehicular instability than forces of nature, making foreseeing and avoiding them rather impossible. Or perhaps I am just trying to avoid being that person – you know, the one who over-plans everything and becomes crippled after having read far too many horror stories about the things that happen to travelers far away from home. I would far rather make my own new and completely unique disaster stories, thank you very much.

One aspect of travelling where I intend to go which is in my control however, are vaccinations against some of the more weird and wonderful (is that really an appropriate term?) diseases that live between where I will start and where I would like to be. A quick call to the travel clinic this afternoon was the first step into this colourful world.

“Hi, is that the travel clinic?”

“Yes it is, how may I help you?”

“Well, I am intending to see a few countries in Africa at the end of the year and was wondering about what vaccinations I will need to have beforehand”

“Sure, where are you going to be headed?”

“Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt”

overly long pause on the other end
…at which point it occurred to me that perhaps this was not the most usual request. I was not to be disappointed however. Apparently disease does exist between these two African poles and so here is a list, in order of varying degrees of interestingness, of the things that one apparently needs to be made immune to before voyaging off in to the great and dusty unknown.

Hepatitis A and B

The Hepatitis twins. Did you know that the plural of Hepatitis is Hepatitides? Neither did I. It is also not (as far as Wikipedia can tell me) a virus per se, but rather an inflammation of the liver, which can come about through a number of different means. Including (but by no means limited to) drinking too much, eating poisonous mushrooms, being exposed to white phosphorous or chloroform. You can also (and far more likely) contract the condition from a whole bunch of different virii present in conditions of poor hygeine. Wikipedia in fact says it “is most commonly transmitted by the fecal-oral route ” – which is a polite way of restating an old idiom about doing particular things where you eat.

Worldwide distribution of Hepatitis B. See the big red part in the middle? That is more or less where I am going.

Worldwide distribution of Hepatitis B. See the big red part in the middle? That is more or less where I am going.

Yellow Fever

Is so called because of the fact that it causes jaundice. Which is not particularly surprising. It is also caused by mosquitoes. Which I did not know. Initial symptoms may be pretty mild (headache and mild fever). But leave it for too long, and bleeding, a slow heartbeat and something called extreme prostration occurs). Extreme prostration?

Yellow Fever. Marked in yellow. How appropriate.

Yellow Fever. Marked in yellow. How appropriate.


First made famous by Mary (Typhoid Mary, that is, not the virgin), the disease is caused by a type of salmonella. Which was doubly unfortunate, since Mary was a cook, resulting in her being quarantined for something in the region of 26 years. But I digress – no eating suspicious-looking fish products then (makes a note). The incidence of Typhoid in developed nations is apparently around 5 in every 100,000 people in the developed world, while in Africa the Congo alone saw something like 42,000 cases in a year. Small wonder then that the Typhoid distribution map looks like a rough approximation of global wealth.

Typhoid. Ooh - look where the big red splot lives.

Typhoid. Ooh - look where the big red splot lives.


At last. A disease which has not made a holiday home out of east and central Africa. But for the Sudan and Egypt (and interestingly enough, even smug little South Africa), it seems to largely not exist on the east side of the continent. Diphtheria though, is a pretty nasty little terror, boys and girls. Spread by direct physical contact or breathing in the bacteria, it causes the sort of wounds that would make you truly lose your appetite, if it were not for the fact that, having contracted Diphtheria, you would probably not feel like a wholesome lunch in any event.

Look! no cases reported in Africa. Whee!

Look! no cases reported in Africa. Whee!


Polio, while sounding similar to, but nothing like the game with horses (which is a disease mostly contracted in wealthier parts of the world), was first made famous by President Roosevelt. Nowadays, it has been pretty much eradicated from the face of the earth, a la Smallpox, except for some small areas around Nigeria where shortsighted (to be diplomatic) public health policies mean that it continues to pop up regularly, forcing the WHO to play whack-a-mole with something that really should have been consigned to the history books a very, very long time ago. I also seem to remember getting a jab for this in primary school sometime and will be going nowhere at all near Nigeria, so it is unlikely to be something to worry about.

And so there, in a nutshell, is what lives in the air, water and food along the way. Most of which I suspect I have been vaccinated against in the course of my childhood and recent travels. Which would be great, since I recall the combination injections leaving my arm rather sore the last time I had to go in for them.