I use to think I was invincible…not because I was anyone special with an incredibly resilient armour of a body, but because I once got injected with just about every vaccine imaginable (or so I thought, after being submitted to countless needles and vials of mysterious fluids by a doctor I once followed into the depths of a Panamanian jungle). Never having fallen ill, as I just have during my current trip to Southeast Asia, I used to joke that my body was much too toxic for it to be appealing, or of any use, to any parasitic specimen or creature…I was not good host, period. Or so I thought…
I’m sharing this with you with the hope that you'll never experience this (if you haven’t already), but if you do - I hope this helps you a little…with a disclaimer, of course, that I am not a medical practitioner, well-versed in the world of tropical infections or diseases, or know much about what I am currently writing about…I'm simply sharing a bit of personal experience...
MY SYMPTOMS (PARASITE: NOT WELCOME, BUT IF YOU MUST...)
First, becoming a host to a parasite is as painful as it is confusing. The stomach begins to bloat (in my case, mistaken by someone for a second-term pregnancy), the mind goes blurry, legs swell, you feel weak, exhausted and nauseated as you struggle with random bouts of stabbing pain in your back and belly…you begin feel inexplicably sad, and - you never, ever, stray more than 20 steps from a toilet.
When I experienced this for the first time back in December, and not thinking clearly in my infested state, I didn’t know where or who to turn to next…so here, my dear fellow travellers, is what worked for me (in Siem Reap, Cambodia):
GET STOOL & BLOOD TESTS
Most labs labs and clinics will provide you with a jar to collect your...number two. They hand these out for free in Cambodia, and ask that you deliver your first business of the morning within 30 minutes of delivery (this will increase the accuracy of the test). I visited the Biomed lab in Siem Reap (Address for your tuk tuk driver: No. 669, ផ្លូវជាតិលេខ 6, ភូមិ មណ្ឌល 1, សង្កាត់ ស្វាយដង្គុំ).
The staff here is great, efficient (full results within three to four hours), and cheap! Stool Test: $2.50 / Blood Test (for what was recommended for me): $14.75
(Yes, that's a picture of me, pre-blood test, being a babyyyyy....it didn't hurt at all!)
TAKE YOUR RESULTS TO A DOCTOR
Armed with some solid data, this will help your doctor determine whatever the heck it is that you may be dealing with (as best as she/he can - please see note below). In my case, I met with Dr. Ian Ferguson, an amazing doctor at the British Khmer Clinic who comes highly recommended by locals and expats, not to mention - a clearly devoted and compassionate medical practitioner who has done some amazing work in the region over the years, and reopened his clinic to see his patients (including myself) a mere few hours after returning from an impressive trek in Nepal.
FOLLOW YOUR DOCTOR'S ADVICE, AND BLAST THOSE BUGGERS!
I'll admit, I skipped the blood test and the visit with a doctor during my first and second bouts with parasites (yes, they like me a lot apparently) and instead followed the advice of a group of friends and expats who had been struggling with the same symptoms as I was. After confirming the parasitic presence with a stool test, I blasted them with the medication (Tinidazole - $4 at a local pharmacy) as they had. It worked like a charm! Although I got lucky....please visit a doctor!
All this to say, dear friends, that if/when you feel symptoms similar to these, don't panic (yes, it can be scary - especially when trying to self-diagnose oneself on our beloved Google machine), follow some simple steps to confirm and rule things out, and everything will be alllllllright!
BE WELL FELLOW TRAVELLERS!!!!
PS: DID YOU KNOW that specialized, and readily accessible kits (available in the Western world) to detect/identify/confirm parasites cannot be imported to Cambodia (possibly, one of the countries where they are needed most and would be highly beneficial)? This, according to a doctor who has made numerous attempts to bring them in to help him diagnose his patients...something to think about - n'est-ce pas?