When local medical attention can save your life

It was every traveler's worst nightmare. Last year a Canadian woman contracted poison from an insect bite while in South America. She had returned to Canada when the infection from the bite flared up. It took some time for Alberta doctors to figure out what was actually wrong with her. (Her symptoms were characteristic of a bite from a Lonomia caterpillar). The doctors located the antidote for the poison -- available from a manufacturer in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

However, red tape -- Health Canada had not approved the treatment for this Amazonian insect's poison! -- prevented the patient from having access to the medicine in time. She died a preventable death. Jodie Sinnema of Canada.com writes:
More and more people are embarking on adventure tours that can bring them into contact with worms that grow to 90 centimetres inside the human body, flies that cause sleeping sickness or river blindness, and parasites that can live inside a body for years, then travel to the brain to cause seizures and hallucinations, he said.
Dr. Bagshaw, who reported the incident in the Candian Medical Association Journal, has some advice for travellers:
  • Do some homework about various health risks before you go.
  • Scour the Internet to quickly diagnose and treat unusual symptoms. "Keep an open mind," Bagshaw said as advice to his colleagues.
  • Don't automatically trust local guides for information on local fauna and flora. "The caution is that local guides may not be local and may not understand the dangers," he said. "Dive instructors are a good example; they often don't come from the country where they work."
  • Seek medical help in the country where you were poisoned. "It increases the chances of getting access to an antivenin that's only available in that country, and it cuts down on any delay due to travel time," Bagshaw said.
Generally, this sounds like good advice to me. To the last point, I might add: if local town doctors are not helpful, get yourself to the nearest quality hospital in the region.

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