Bugs, Bites, and Bowels
Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth
(Cadogan Guides)
I imagined that Bugs, Bites and Bowels would probably scare me away from ever leaving my hearth and home again. But no: all those awful things that we fear when we are abroad are there, but they pale in comparison to the real problems that you will have with not-so-strange dangers in other lands.

Dr. Wilson-Howarth says that you might well be fearful of tarantulas, coral snakes, Delhi Belly and brown reclusive spiders, but there is something that is far more common and far more dangerous. They are known as "domestic animals and pets."

    Dogs kill hundreds of people, while healthy wolves have never killed anyone. There have been reports of deaths or severe injuries after attacks by camels, cattle, water buffalo, elephants, pigs, cats, and even sheep and ferrets... [They] also act as disease reservoirs; parrots with runny noses harbor pneumonia-causing bugs, while pet terrapins, tortoises, snakes, and even African pygmy hedgehogs are a common source of exotic Salmonella infections.

I also figured that the good doctor was going to scare me away from ever bathing in the fresh-water rivers of South America because I had heard tell of a noxious fish that crept into a certain orifice which I will not name at this moment but let us just say it is an orifice of which I am very fond and even more protective. She finishes off that one as well:

    If you urinate in South American rivers, there is a fish, it is said, that follows the stream to its source, swims inside, sticks out barbed fins and stays put. It can then only be removed surgically, perhaps by penile amputation. The tiny candiru (also called the Canero fish) is 40 - 60 mm long (1 - 2 inches) and only 4 - 6 mm broad. It is known to embed itself inside the gills of other fish; the tale of it parasitizing man seems to be a myth.

Not only does she shoot down this most painful of shaggy-dog stories, she goes on to poo-poo the danger of the piranhas, a fantasy invented by, of all people, Theodore Roosevelt:

    Large members of the Serrasalmus genus may possibly threaten someone who has been injured or otherwise weakened; this is only likely if the piranhas' natural food is scarce, if they have been provoked by waste being dumped in their river, or if they are trapped in a receding pool just before the rains.

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The wonder (and the pleasure) of Bugs, Bites and Bowels is not only the devaluating all those fears that we've always had of what will happen to us when we are far from home, but, even more unexpectedly, telling us that so many of the healthcare instructions we have been given over the years are actually harmful.

  • "Snakes use their venom to hunt and so are often reluctant to waste it in unnecessary aggression. They can control whether they dispense venom or not and often bites are 'dry' and harmless." There are more than 40,000 snake-bite deaths a year, she tells us, but most are in India, and most come from the cobra. She also warns against cutting into a snake bite: "It does not flush out venom, but it can sever arteries."
  • Tourniquets should never be used in cases of severe bleeding. Rather, one must elevate the limb and try to tape the wound closed --- temporarily.
  • One third of American cats are infected with Rochalimæa henselæ bacteria, which causes Cat Scratch Fever.
  • In the United Kingdom, "more people drown inside vehicles than while swimming."
  • Beggars with leprosy often "touch foreigners deliberately presumably in the hope that you will be terrified into buying them off." But the only way to be infected is by long-term and intimate contact.
  • There is a disease known as "loa-loa" --- also known as "filaria" which is spread by horse-flies. One of the symptoms is that of a 7cm-long worm "meandering across the front of the eyeball." She reports that this can be "an alarming spectacle."
  • The disease we must all avoid, at all costs, is malaria. 2,700,000 succumb to the disease each year. Malaria mosquitoes "hunt from sundown at ankle level and they like sweaty feet."
  • Avoid freshwater shrimp in Asia, the Pacific and the Americas. They carry the risk of angiostrongyliasis, "a nasty little worm that can set up home in the brain or eyes." She says, "Always eat your shrimps, beetles, and snails well cooked."
  • While you are looking for exotic creatures in your food, you might remember that 40,000 people a year die --- and a million are made ill --- by the profligate spraying of pesticides. One should peel and wash fruits and vegetables not only to avoid diarrhœa, but, as well, chemicals. She also lists eighteen serious diseases one can get from unsanitary eats, including such disgusting infections as Amœbic dysentery, giardia, shigella, campylobacter, rotaviruses, cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis A and E.
This is a fine guide for traveling overseas --- and a most valuable chapter has to do with psychological problems that can overtake the expatriate:

    The life of an expatriate appears romantic and attractive. The reality is that many work six- and sometimes seven-day weeks, because they are under huge pressure to achieve and are often away from their families. Pressure of work rarely leaves time to learn a local language, and this restricts the social circle to other expatriates and a select number of highly educated locals. The community is small, introverted, and often obsessed by trivia. Life can seem terribly isolated... Pressures at work and distance from familiar supports create tensions, and many expatriates unwind with a drink. Alcoholism is a common problem. Workaholism is too...

There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by taking this one along with you when you go. Already I have vowed to never eat the freshwater shrimp I favor in the village I visit every winter. I keep imagining that "nasty little worm that can set up home in the brain or eyes." Or maybe it's the vision --- what a vision! --- of one of those tiny worms slithering across my eyeball.

--- Carlos Amantea
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