Many of you may have returned from a summer of travelling to exotic destinations. You’ll spend the next few Pav Fridays boring your friends with tales of how you held the heads of sick orphans in Africa, and showing off all the booze you smuggled through customs.
Many of you may have returned from a summer of travelling to exotic destinations. You’ll spend the next few Pav Fridays boring your friends with tales of how you held the heads of sick orphans in Africa, and showing off all the booze you smuggled through customs. But, aside from a life-changing experience, what else have you brought back with you?
Lurking in the seams of your suitcase could be a nasty little bloodsucker. The bedbug (Cimex lectularius) is most commonly found in hostels and hotels, and sucks your blood at night-time. They bite into your skin, injecting saliva [containing anticoagulants and anaesthetic], which later causes an extremely itchy red lump due to an immune reaction to the proteins therein. They spread by laying eggs in your suitcase and clothes which later hatch in your home. They are notoriously difficult to eradicate, requiring a visit by pest-control experts, who will spray your house with chemicals so noxious that you have to leave for the duration of the treatment.
Another, more disturbing prospect is intestinal worms. Noticed any changes in your appetite, or [ahem] digestive functioning? Starting to regret that kebab you bought from that dodgy street vendor in Bangkok? Parasitic helminths are found all over the world, even in Western countries. And you may be carrying one right now. Beef tapeworm (Taenia saginata) infection usually has very vague symptoms, ranging from mild fatigue to increased hunger, as well as diarrhoea and nausea. It can be contracted by eating undercooked beef containing tapeworm cysts, which develop into adult worms in the intestine. Beef tapeworm can grow up to 25 feet in length inside the human intestine. There are many other species of tapeworms, which are usually found in other animals but can find their way into humans who make bad dietary choices.
Another particularly interesting parasite is the hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale). Found in tropical countries, it is contracted by walking barefoot in soil infested with hookworm eggs. The larvae burrow through the skin of the foot, travel via the bloodstream to the lungs, whereupon they are coughed up and swallowed, and make their way into the digestive tract. There, they attach via vicious-looking teeth to the lining of the intestine, and feast on the blood of the host, causing anaemia, and in extreme cases, intestinal blockage. Not a nice thought.
Those of you who remained in Europe may be glad that you’re safe from all these disturbing things that live inside people. But don’t forget scabies (Sarcoptes scabiei), the itch mite that burrows into your skin and lays eggs. It takes 4-6 weeks after infection for symptoms to appear. So if you start itching between your fingers, and notice small s-shaped tracks, you’d better see your doctor. And don’t think you can keep it private, either. You’ll have to tell your family, housemates and sexual partners. Ireland doesn’t sound so bad anymore, does it?