If you’re an adult, you won’t need any inoculations unless you’re travelling 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.
We have a warm sunny climate and sunscreen and a hat are recommended whenever you are out of doors during the day, particularly between 10:00 and 16:00, regardless of whether there is cloud cover or not.
Even if you have a dark complexion, you can still get sunburned if you are from a cooler climate and have not had much exposure to the sun. Sunglasses are also recommended wear, as the glare of the African sun can be strong.
Can I drink the water?
High-quality tap (faucet) water is available almost everywhere in South Africa, treated so as to be free of harmful micro-organisms, and in any area other than informal or shack settlements, 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 and wonderful. In the Cape, particularly, the water contains humic acid, which stains it the colour of diluted Coca-Cola – this is absolutely harmless, and the water is wonderful. You may also find this colouring in tap water in some areas. 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 travellers 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.
As in other countries, always take precautions when having sex. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world.
Other health issues
Bilharzia can be a problem in some of the east-flowing rivers, but it is easily detected and treated if it is caught early. Perhaps it would be a good idea 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 may carry tickbite fever, which is easily treated. You should also be aware of hepatitis, for which you can be inoculated.
There has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of malaria throughout Africa, and Botswana has endemic malarial areas particularly in northern Botswana during the warmer months from November to June .It’s a good idea to consult a doctor at least two weeks prior to entering Botswana and to take every precaution advised. The most important thing to do is to take anti-malaria drugs two weeks prior the visit. Other precautions should therefore be taken in all malarial areas:
Apply insect repellent to exposed skin
Wear light cotton clothing, long sleeves, long trousers and closed shoes after sunset
Clothes should be treated with an appropriate insecticide
Take precautions when going outside between dawn and dusk
Use mosquito nets treated with insecticide, or use mosquito coils or mats
During the rainy season, the risk of malaria is higher
Malaria symptoms can appear up to six months after leaving a malaria region. As soon as the following symptoms appear consult a medical practitioner:
Loss of appetite
Ticks can be found in the bush all over Botswana. The best precautionary measures are to keep your body well covered when walking in the bush and to use an insect repellent. Nevertheless, there is the risk of being bitten, so check your body carefully afterwards. If a tick has burrowed into the skin, it will appear as a small black dot (a common area is around the ankles and lower legs) and may go septic.
Common symptoms of tick-bite fever are headache, fever, tenderness in the glands, general body ache and neck stiffness. If you seek medical help early enough, tetracycline treatment can modify the course of the illness.
Sun and heat-related problems
Newcomers to Botswana may experience salt depletion and heat exhaustion, particularly in the summer season. Symptoms include weariness, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps.Preventive measures include taking salt tablets, drinking plenty of water and fruit juices (drink at least three litres of liquid daily), avoiding prolonged direct exposure to the sun, and avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol as this causes dehydration. Use sunscreen liberally when in the sun and always carry sunglasses and a sunhat.
Of the 60 species of snake in Botswana, 12 are venomous. These venomous snakes fall into three categories: cytotoxic (cell-destroying), neurotoxic (acting on the nerves), and hemotoxic (acting on the blood).Snakes are not usually aggressive. Sensing ground vibrations, they will usually retreat before they are seen.One good precautionary measure is to wear shoes or boots, which protect your feet well. Wear socks and long trousers if walking through undergrowth. If you see a snake, make a slow retreat, moving steadily and slowly backwards. The exception to this is the spitting cobra. In the unlikely event that you come across a spitting cobra it is advisable that you remain completely still. The snake is very shortsighted and will spit at the first thing that glints, very possibly your eye. If you remain still the snake will probably move away.In the case of a snake-bite, take the following steps:
Identify the snake and establish whether it is venomous or not. You will need to know what kind of snake it is to know what venom it has; using the wrong kind of anti-venom serum can kill the victim
If possible kill the snake. Identification of the snake is important.
Immobilize the limb immediately – wrap a crepe bandage and put on a splint
Do NOT apply a tourniquet or attempt to suck the bite
Treat the victim for shock; disinfect the area of the bite
Get the victim to a clinic or hospital immediately; if the snake has been positively identified, the doctor or nurse will assist in procuring anti-venom serum
Visitors should be aware that the incidence of HIV and AIDS is high throughout southern Africa, and Botswana is no exception.
Bilharzia is an ever-present threat in many African streams and rivers. To avoid contracting Bilharzia one should stay out of the water. The disease is easily cured and cannot be caught by drinking untreated water. Tap water is safe to drink in Botswana’s urban areas.
Basic health information for travelers to Zimbabwe
There are Public Hospitals in most towns and cities with services that can be best described as average. Private Hospitals in Lusaka provide good quality medical services with limited facilities. Chemists/Pharmacies, private doctors and other medical practitioners are available in Lusaka, Livingstone and the Copperbelt. Do not rely on medical services outside of these areas.
Malaria is endemic to most areas in Zambia. Suitable precautions and the use of Prophylactics are recommended for visitors to these areas. There are a number of excellent mosquito repellents available in supermarkets, which are manufactured in South Africa, that are applied directly to the skin or clothes in the evening. Many hotels and other accommodation establishments have mosquito nets over the beds in their rooms.
HIV/Aids is widespread in Zambia and it is recommended that visitors do not engage in any high-risk sexual or drug-related activities that may cause exposure to the disease. Condoms are available in the country from pharmacies and some supermarkets, although it is wise to check their effectiveness thoroughly before use.