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Worldworx Travel Travel Health: Africa: West Africa

Health Information for Travelers to West Africa
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde islands, C�te d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, S�o Tom� and Pr�ncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo

 

NOTE: Please check the Outbreaks section for updates on these and other countries.

Map of West Africa

Food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers. Travelers� diarrhea can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found throughout the region and can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E. coli, Salmonella, cholera, and parasites), fever (typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis), or liver damage (hepatitis). Make sure your food and drinking water are safe. (See below.)

Malaria is a serious, but preventable infection that can be fatal.Your risk of malaria may be high in these countries, including cities. Prevent this deadly disease by seeing your health care provider for a prescription antimalarial drug and by protecting yourself against mosquito bites (see below). All travelers to West Africa, including infants, children, and former residents of West Africa, are at risk for malaria. All travelers should take one of the following drugs (listed alphabetically): atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, mefloquine, or primaquine (in special circumstances). See Malaria Information for Travelers to West Africa for detailed information on malaria-risk areas and antimalarial drugs. See also Preventing Malaria in the Pregnant Woman (Information for the Public) and Preventing Malaria in Infants and Children (Information for the Public).

Yellow fever vaccination is recommended and may be required for entry into certain of these countries. If you travel to West Africa, the easiest and safest thing to do is get a yellow fever vaccination and a signed certificate. For detailed information, see Comprehensive Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirements.

Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, and trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) are diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region. Protecting yourself against insect bites (see below) will help to prevent these diseases.

Schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection, is found in fresh water in the region. Do not swim in fresh water (except in well-chlorinated swimming pools) in these countries. (For more information, please see the Swimming Precautions on the Making Travel Safe page.)

Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid nighttime travel if possible and always use seat belts.

CDC recommends the following vaccines (as appropriate for age):
See your doctor at least 4�6 weeks before your trip to allow time for shots to take effect.

  • Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG).
  • Hepatitis B, if you might be exposed to blood (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, stay longer than 6 months, or be exposed through medical treatment.
  • Meningococcal meningitis, for travel to most of these countries (see meningitis map) from December through June.
  • Yellow fever.
  • Rabies, if you might be exposed to wild or domestic animals through your work or recreation.
  • Typhoid, particularly if you are visiting developing countries in this region.
  • As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria, measles, and a one-time dose of polio vaccine for adults. Hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for children ages 11�12 years who did not complete the series as infants.

To stay healthy, do...

  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
  • Drink only bottled or boiled water, or carbonated (bubbly) drinks in cans or bottles. Avoid tap water, fountain drinks, and ice cubes. If this is not possible, make water safer by BOTH filtering through an �absolute 1-micron or less� filter AND adding iodine tablets to the filtered water. �Absolute 1-micron filters� are found in camping/outdoor supply stores.
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.
  • Take your malaria prevention medication before, during, and after travel, as directed. (See your doctor for a prescription.)
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites:
    • Pay special attention to mosquito protection between dusk and dawn. This is when the type of mosquito whose bite transmits malaria is active.
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
    • Use insect repellents that contain DEET (diethylmethyltoluamide).
    • Read and follow the directions and precautions on the product label.
    • Apply insect repellent to exposed skin.
    • Do not put repellent on wounds or broken skin.
    • Do not breathe in, swallow, or get into the eyes (DEET is toxic if swallowed). If using a spray product, apply DEET to your face by spraying your hands and rubbing the product carefully over the face, avoiding eyes and mouth.
    • Unless you are staying in air-conditioned or well-screened housing, purchase a bed net impregnated with the insecticide permethrin or deltamethrin. Or, spray the bed net with one of these insecticides if you are unable to find a pretreated bed net.
    • DEET may be used on adults, children, and infants older than 2 months of age. Protect infants by using a carrier draped with mosquito netting with an elastic edge for a tight fit.
    • Children under 10 years old should not apply insect repellent themselves. Do not apply to young children�s hands or around eyes and mouth.
    • For details on how to protect yourself from insects and how to use repellents, see Protection against Mosquitoes and Other Arthropods.
  • To prevent fungal and parasitic infections, keep feet clean and dry, and do not go barefoot.
  • Always use latex condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

To avoid getting sick...

  • Don�t eat food purchased from street vendors.
  • Don�t drink beverages with ice.
  • Don�t eat dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized.
  • Don�t share needles with anyone.
  • Don�t handle animals (especially monkeys, dogs, and cats), to avoid bites and serious diseases (including rabies and plague). (For more information, please see the Animal-Associated Hazards on the Making Travel Safe page.)
  • Don�t swim in fresh water. Salt water is usually safer. (For more information, please see the Swimming Precautions on the Making Travel Safe page.)

What you need to bring with you:

  • Long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a hat to wear while outside whenever possible, to prevent illnesses carried by insects (e.g., malaria, dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, and onchocerciasis).
  • Insect repellent containing DEET.
  • Bed nets impregnated with permethrin. (Can be purchased in camping or military supply stores. Overseas, permethrin or another insecticide, deltamethrin, may be purchased to treat bed nets and clothes.)
  • Flying-insect spray or mosquito coils to help clear rooms of mosquitoes. The product should contain a pyrethroid insecticide; these insecticides quickly kill flying insects, including mosquitoes.
  • Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medicine to take if you have diarrhea.
  • Iodine tablets and water filters to purify water if bottled water is not available. See Do�s above for more details about water filters.
  • Sunblock, sunglasses, hat.
  • Prescription medications: make sure you have enough to last during your trip, as well as a copy of the prescription(s).

After you return home:
If you have visited a malaria-risk area, continue taking your antimalarial drug for 4 weeks (mefloquine or doxycycline) or seven days (atovaquone/proguanil) after leaving the risk area.

Malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness either while traveling in a malaria-risk area or after you return home (for up to 1 year), you should seek immediate medical attention and should tell your health care provider your travel history.

For more information:
Ask your doctor or check the CDC web sites for more information about how to protect yourself against diseases that occur in West Africa, including the following:

Diseases carried by insects

Diseases carried in food or water

Diseases from person-to-person contact

For more information about these and other diseases, please check the Diseases page.
 

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