From time to time my Dad likes to call my office and ask for Dr. Phelan just because. Of course, there was another time when someone introduced me as, “This is Kelly. She is a doctor. But she’s NOT the kind of doctor who can help people.”
Granted, a Ph.D. and an M.D. are quite different from one another. But after my time in Africa I feel as if I should be awarded an honorary M.D. I can probably name more diseases than anyone else I know. During my travels throughout Africa I have become acquainted with the following:
African Trypanosomiasis- a.k.a. African Sleeping Sickness. This is a parasitic disease spread by the teste fly. There is no vaccine or medicine, so you have to avoid the teste fly. It is fatal to both humans and animals.
African Tick-Bite Fever- This is a bacterial infection spread through infected ticks. Again, no vaccine or medicine to prevent it; just avoid ticks. Where are ticks? Typically where you are paying hundreds of dollars to go on game drives to see wild animals.
Cholera- You know how you are supposed to wash your hands every time you use the bathroom? This is why. Hand washing is not widely appreciated here the way it is in other parts of the world; hence transmission occurs through ingesting food and water contaminated by feces from an infected person.
Dengue- Caused by mosquito bites. No vaccine or preventative medication. Do you see a pattern yet? Good news is that you only die in severe cases.
Ebola- Ebola is also referred to as hemorrhagic fever. In my opinion, anything where you bleed uncontrollably is bad.
Malaria- This disease is spread through mosquito bites and most likely to kill a foreigner in Africa. Not Africans though. Most Africans get malaria with some amount of regularity. They look at malaria the same way we do the flu. For Africans, as long as you don’t get malaria when you are in a high-risk period of your life (child, pregnant mother) chances are decent you will end up developing a partial protective immunity to it. But, it can still kill you.
Measles- Fortunately this is practically nonexistent in the U.S. Of course, with all those celebrities spreading their anti-vaccination beliefs that could change. I hope Jenny McCarthy plans to travel overseas with her kids NEVER.
Polio- Again, thanks to vaccinations the U.S. is considered polio-free since 1979. Unfortunately it is making a resurgence in Africa and since it is spread person-to-person through improperly cooked food or human waste there are plenty of opportunities for one to contract it here due to the lack of sanitation standards.
Schistosomiasis- Long story short, NEVER go swimming in freshwater ANYWHERE in Africa. Basically, if the crocodiles don’t kill you, the water will.
Tuberculosis- Coughing up blood is bad. Enough said.
Typhoid- I’m still not 100% sure exactly how you get Typhoid. I just know the vaccine is only about 50-80% effective and it is rampant in Africa so you are supposed to be careful about what you eat and drink.
Yellow Fever- Seriously, these mosquitoes are a BIG problem. Yellow fever is probably the worst mosquito-related disease in Africa as many countries won’t let you in the door without a yellow fever vaccination card and 15% of people who contract it develop serious complications including organ failure and death.
So what do you think? Do I qualify? Can I start calling myself Dr. Dr. Phelan now?