#NASH74 Goes Viral and Other Nasty Travel News.
The virus spread like the news of a celebrity death on Twitter
It all started with this line:”Motherf*cker! She threw up on the back of my head. Motherf*ckerrr!”
(I am most happy to say, I was not the mother*cker who blessed this guy’s head with the contents of my stomach.)
When I squeezed a week’s worth of clothing into a tiny suitcase—bright blue for easy identification in the luggage-swallowing airports—and set off to Victoria, B.C. for Archipelago, the Canadian University Press’ 74th National Conference, my list of worries included crashing planes, lost bags and bed bugs in the hotel mattresses. Spending a night, curled up in ever-increasing agony, on the cold white tiles of the bathroom floor was not on that list.
Nevertheless, myself, and some 60-70 others, did just that. We had been struck with Norovirus, a horrible stomach bug, passed by contact with infected bodily fluids, often in hotels, on cruise ships, at summer camps, and other places where large numbers of people gather together. The virus is like a tornado, coming out of nowhere, unexpected and uninvited, doing maximum damage in a short span of time, and leaving without so much as a remorseful glance over its shoulder. After its sudden onset, what followed was a long torturous night for the infected and a fearful one for those yet to be touched by the slimy, unmerciful fingers of Norivirus. While the healthy huddled together, though not too closely, wrapping their faces in scarves and scrubbing their hands with Purell, the infected were quarantined together to fight through the tight uncomfortable feeling in their stomachs and get well-acquainted with bathroom sinks, tubs and toilets.
If you don’t believe this thing was as bad as I make it sound, you don’t have to take my word for it. This was a student journalism conference, so of course there’s documentation. You only need to look so far as hashtag #NASH74 to find first hand reports of the horror. By the afternoon after the onset of Barfilego, as it was dubbed, NASH 74 had made the news. We had gone viral, literally.
I think what horrified me most about Barfipelago wasn’t the actual sickness itself, but the potential for it to spread. Allow me to paint a mental picture. A national student journalism conference takes place on the west coast of the country. In attendance are 400 students from universities from across the country. Some of those students have contracted the virus, and those who haven’t, have been exposed and may be incubating it. Those students are due to fly back to their campuses in 48-72 hours, passing through international airports in practically every province and a few northern states. Picture the virus-spread map fromRise of the Planet of the Apesand the fast spreading grossness of Contagion. Scared yet?
Of course we know Norovirus is not the worst thing that can be deposited in your city by some poor wary traveller. Every year, the government of Canada warns travellers to get immunized against certain illnesses that are commonly contracted by vacationers. An MSNBC article entitled ‘8 most common travel illnesses’ names some of the illnesses often contracted while travelling. Norovirus makes the list along with malaria, dengue fever, and chikugunya, none of which have a vaccine. And these illnesses are not confined to exotic locales and third world countries. Some of them happen just south of the border.
What chikugunya, malaria and dengue fever all have in common is that they are all insect-borne and incredibly painful. They also come with fever and headache and the possibility of death. Dengue is distinctive by its measles-like rash and terrible muscle and joint aches. In severe cases, it can cause bleeding, blood plasma leakage and low blood pressure. Most uncomforting is that there is no vaccine and the only preventative measures that can be taken is to control the population of mosquitoes that carry the disease. On the positive side, once you’ve contracted one of the many strains, you’re immune to that particular strain, but not to the others. Sort of like the common cold, but so much worse.
Chikugunya’s characteristic symptom is the pain that haunts it’s victims long after the headache and fever have left. It’s literal translation is “that which bends up” (from the Makonde language of the Tanzanians), because sufferers have been known to feel pain for weeks, months and even years after first contracting the illness. Other unpleasant symptoms include conjunctivitis, photophobia and insomnia. Like dengue fever, it doesn’t have a vaccine.
Malaria, probably the best known of the three, is as terrible as the others. Common symptoms are shivering, anemia, jaundice, retinal damage, and convulsions. It is characterized by a cycle of coldness followed by rigor and then fever and sweating. At its most severe, malaria can cause brain damage, renal failure and death. The good news is that there are greater preventative measure that can be taken other than avoiding mosquitoes, a fairly impossible task in a tropical location. Medications for the prevention of malaria include mefloquine, doxycycline and proguanil hydrochloride, but they are not without their side effects.
If you want to avoid spending your entire vacation fighting with one of these illnesses, then you must be careful. To avoid dengue fever and chikugunya wear insect repellent, and light coloured long clothing when you’re in mosquito-heavy areas. Be sure to consult your doctor about vaccines for malaria if you are going to visit an area where the disease is known to be widespread.
For food-borne illnesses like norovirus, hand washing rules apply more than ever, and I’d recommend that you keep some sanitizer on your person. Remember, you’re used to the germs at home, but the things that the locals of your destination can stomach may not be for you. Be careful to drink bottled water and eat fruits and veggies that you wash yourself. Make certain that your meat is cooked through properly. Sure this takes some of the fun and spontaneity out of your vacation but the alternative isn’t too peachy. Of course, you could choose to take your chances with one of those horrible viruses or diseases, but a week of vomiting, diarrhoea, body aches, rash, and any other combination of horrible symptoms doesn’t seem to worth it to me. I’m sure you’d much rather spend your vacation exploring your chosen destination than confined to the bathroom or bed, unless of course, you’re into that kind of pain and misery.