Kenya Health Information
A List of Health Threats and How to Protect Yourself
How’s the Kenya health situation? Here’s a list of all the diseases and health dangers in Kenya that you may encounter as a traveller. It’s quite a list. But don’t let it scare you. Some of these diseases are low risk for travelers, many can be cured, and with the right precautions the chances that you’ll get them can be reduced dramatically. Also see my other page with
Kenya health advice.
However, this information is not meant as a substitute for a visit to your physician. Your situation is unique and may require special advice and/or action. When traveling to Kenya, health is not something to tamper with. I advise you to see your physician or a specialized travel health clinic 8 weeks before departure.
Arguably the most common Kenya health problem for travellers. You can typically get this through unhygienic food and water. Avoid tap water in Kenya and drink bottled water, which is available everywhere and avoid food you don’t trust. This includes uncooked foods, in particular raw or half-raw meat and fish, unpasteurized milk or products made from that (such as ice cream), and fruits that aren’t peeled. Don’t eat from street vendors as well. In most cases, travellers’ diarrhea is mild and no treatment is necessary, other than drinking enough clean water. But if you have heavy diarrhea, especially in combination with nausaea, cramps, fever, vomiting or blood in the stool, then many doctors advise to take anti-diarrheal drugs promptly.
Kenya has the worst variant of malaria which, if untreated, is fatal in a number of cases. Malaria is transferred by mosquitoes that bite between sunset and sunrise. The malaria risk is low in the cities and highlands, and higher at the coast. There’s no vaccination for malaria yet, but you can protect yourself by avoiding to be bitten (by sleeping under a good mosquito net, using insect repellent containing DEET and covering your arms and legs) and by taking anti-malaria pills as a prevention. Non of them guarantee that you don’t get the disease, but together they make the chance pretty low. Malarone is the newest anti-malaria prevention drug and it reportedly has few, if any, side effects.
Yellow fever is spread by a bite of infected mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are active from sunrise to sunset (contrary to malaria mosquitoes). There’s a vaccination, which protects you against the disease for 10 years. But there’s no cure once you have it, except relief of symptoms, and it can be fatal. Most doctors advise vaccination for all Kenya travellers older than 9 months. The disease has an incubation of 3-6 days, after which it causes fever, jaundice and bleedings. A yellow fever certificate (proof of vaccination) is required for travellers coming to Kenya from infected areas. Please note that the vaccination is only effective after 10 days, so you may be denied entry if you travel earlier than that.
Though luckily it’s declining in Kenya, HIV and AIDS are still widespread there. See my separate page about
AIDS & HIV in Kenya.
This disease attacks the liver. It’s one of the most common diseases among travellers to developing countries. You can get it through direct contact with infected persons, from contaminated water or from foods handled by infected people. Symptoms may include malaise, fever, jaundice, vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain. There’s a vaccination, and most doctors recommend this for all travellers older than 1 year. A single vaccination gives you only protection for a year, but if you take a second vaccination within 12 months, it guarantees immunity for up to 20 years.
Like Hepatitis A, this disease attacks the liver. Hepatitis B can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer and other liver damage, and sometimes it’s fatal. The disease is spread through unprotected sexual contact, blood transfusion, or the use of contaminated needles. Mothers can also pass the virus to their children during childbirth. There’s a vaccine, but as the risk is limited, many doctors only recommend this for travellers who may have sexual contact with local residents, especially if visiting for more than 6 months, or who expect to receive blood while in Kenya (more on safe blood below). Over 95% of people who become infected as adults or older children, will recover fully and will become immune to the virus.
Tuberculosis is a serious Kenya health problem, but much more for locals than foreign travellers. It’s spread when people with contagious tuberculosis in their lungs, cough or sneeze, and release germs into the air this way. However, many people who catch these germs never get sick. Typically, only people with a lower physical resistance (due to HIV/AIDS, heavy alcohol or drug use, or being very young or very old) will become sick. It’s indeed especially HIV that has led to tuberculosis being a serious problem in Kenya health. Tuberculosis can be treated well, making it non-contagious so that patients cannot infect other people anymore. There’s a vaccination that gives a partial protection against the disease. Most doctors only advise this for children who will stay a longer time in Kenya.
This disease is spread through lakes and rivers, through tiny worms that are carried by fresh water snails. The worms are dropped in slow-moving or still water. When people wade through the water, the worms can penetrate human skin and enter the bladder or bowel. The disease can be treated. If untreated, the disease can cause kidney or bowel damage. Symptoms include fever, rash, and with advanced patients also blood in the stool or urine. Sometimes symptoms are absent. The best precaution is not to enter suspect, still or slow moving water.
Cholera is an infection disease spread through contaminated water and food. The best precaution, therefore, is to only drink bottled water and be suspect of unhygienic food. There is a vaccine, bt as the risk for travellers is considered low, many doctors only recommend vaccination if you are a high-risk individual, such as a relief worker working in Kenya, a health professional, or if you are travelling to areas where a cholera epidemic going on. However, note that at the time of writing this (April 2008) cholera had broken out in the West of Kenya, especially the Nyanza province, which caused 60 deaths at the time of research.
The Kenya health care system is better than many other African countries, but be careful. If you need blood, be aware that a portion of the blood available in Kenya is infected with HIV or Hepatitis B. If you have doubts about the safety of blood, then the Bloodcare Foundation (www.bloodcare.org.uk) in the UK can transport safe blood to any part of the world within 24 hours.
In Kenya, health is not only threatened by diseases. Traffic is a threat, too. Kenya has one of the highest number of traffic casualties per 100,000 vehicles of the world: 510 each year, compared to 260 in South Africa or 20 in the UK. So take care if you’re driving in Kenya. The matatus, the privately owned public minibuses, used to cause a lot of accidents but are more strictly regulated now.
Recent outbreaks of diseases in Kenya can be checked at: www.mdtravelhealth.com/destinations/africa/kenya.html
Kenya Health Advice
Kenya Travel: Practical Information
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