Health and Safety Tip – Focus on South Africa
By: John Gobbels – VP, MedjetAssist
Nothing can spoil a holiday more than feeling ill far from home. There are a number of health issues that you should be aware of, particularly if you’re from the northern hemisphere. However, while there are risks anywhere, South Africa has a great climate and the levels of water treatment and hygiene make it a very safe destination.
If you’re an adult, you won’t need any inoculations unless you’re traveling from a yellow-fever endemic area (the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America), in which case you will need certification to prove your inoculation status when you arrive in South Africa.
It is recommended that you have the required inoculations four to six weeks before you travel to South Africa (a yellow fever inoculation certificate only becomes valid 10 days after inoculation – after which it remains valid for 10 years).
Hepatitis B inoculations are recommended for children up to the age of 12 who have not completed the series of injections as infants. Booster doses for tetanus and measles can also be administered.
Medical facilities in cities and larger towns are world-class, but you will find that in rural areas the clinics and hospitals deal with primary health needs, and therefore do not offer the range of medical care that the large metropolitan hospitals do. Trained medical caregivers are deployed round the country, so help is never far away.
Can I drink the water?
High-quality tap water is available almost everywhere in South Africa and is treated for harmful micro-organisms. Other than informal or shack settlements, the water is both palatable and safe to drink straight from the tap.
In some areas, the water is mineral-rich, and you may experience a bit of gastric distress for a day or two until you get used to it. Bottled mineral water, both sparkling and still, is readily available in most places.
Drinking water straight from rivers and streams could put you at risk of waterborne diseases – especially downstream of human settlements. The water in mountain streams, however, is usually pure.
In the Cape areas, the water contains humic acid that stains it the color of diluted Coca-Cola. This staining is absolutely harmless and you may also find this coloring in tap water in other areas as well. It’s fine – it just looks a bit weird in the bath.
Do I need to take malaria tablets?
Many of the main tourist areas are malaria-free, so you need not worry at all. However, the Kruger National Park, the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal do pose a malaria risk in the summer months.
Many local people and some travelers do not take malaria prophylaxis, but most health professionals recommend you do. Consult your doctor or a specialist travel clinic for the latest advice concerning malaria prophylaxis, as it changes regularly.
Whether you take oral prophylaxis or not, always use mosquito repellent, wear long pants, closed shoes and light long-sleeved shirts at night, and sleep under a mosquito net in endemic areas (the anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria, operates almost exclusively after dark). It is advisable to avoid malarial areas if you are pregnant.
Other health issues
Bilharzia (a parasite infection) can be a problem in some of the east-flowing rivers, but it is easily detected and treated if it is caught early. It is sometimes recommended to have a routine test a month or two after you get home – just to reassure yourself.
Ticks generally come out in the early spring and you should also be aware of hepatitis, for which you can be inoculated.