There are a number of tropical diseases visitors can catch in Tanzania but most of the risks can be avoided as long as you get the right vaccinations for Tanzania before setting off. It is recommended to see your doctor around 6 weeks before your trip to allow plenty of time to schedule in the vaccines for Tanzania. Visitors should also apply for their visa for Tanzania in advance.
Malaria is a real risk throughout much of Tanzania but there isn’t a vaccine available that offers protection against the disease. There is the option of taking antimalarial tablets though they can cause various side effects so it’s best to speak to your doctor.
Vaccinations for Tanzania
Your doctor will be able to tell you which vaccinations you need before going to Tanzania. There are a number of vaccines you should have before going to any country, as well as some vaccines which you specifically need for Tanzania. Make sure you meet all the visa requirements for Tanzania before heading off.
Here is a complete list:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
*A yellow fever vaccine for Tanzania is also recommended although a yellow fever vaccination certificate is not a requirement to enter (unless you’re coming from an infected area).
Tropical Diseases in Tanzania
As diverse as Tanzania’s flora and fauna is, it is also possible to contract some tropical diseases while in the country. Don’t be taken aback by that possibility. Here’s what you need to stay healthy and keep yourself from contracting any of them.
Ebola in Tanzania
Close contact with the blood, body fluids or organs of an infected person are the ways Ebola spreads. There is no approved vaccine or treatment for Ebola and the viruses that cause the disease are located mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Tanzania’s neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has suffered some Ebola outbreaks, but the World Health Organization (WHO) assured that they did not qualify as an international threat. No cases were reported in the rest of the East African Community region (EAC), with the exemption of Uganda.
Cross-border health professionals were on the ground to monitor the situation and guarantee the hemorrhagic fever was contained in the affected areas. Tanzania also deployed experts along the country’s borders with Uganda and the DRC to check on incoming people.
Those who might find themselves in an infected area are recommended to avoid:
- Contact with blood and body fluids (urine, feces, saliva, sweat, vomit, breast milk, semen, and vaginal fluids)
- Items such as clothes, bedding or needles that might have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids
- Burial rituals that involve someone who died from Ebola
- Contact with bats and nonhuman primates, fluids and raw meat from these animals
Zika in Tanzania
Although parts of Tanzania have the mosquito that can spread Zika virus, the country has not reported any current Zika virus transmission, unlike the USA, for instance, where cases of local transmission of the virus were described in Texas and Florida in 2016 and 2017.
The Zika virus is part of the same family as yellow fever and West Nile, but there is no vaccine to prevent it or a specific medicine to treat the infection.
Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected female Aedes aegypti mosquito and can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, through sexual contact, blood transfusion or by needle.
This mosquito is active day and night and usually bites when it is light out, so in order to be as safe as possible, it is a good idea to prevent mosquitos bites as well as avoid sharing bodily fluids. Some measures that can be taken are:
- Stay and sleep in air-conditioned or screened rooms.
- Use a bed net if you sleep exposed to the outdoors.
- Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear, but avoid using it directly on skin.
- Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and hats.
- Use an appropriate mosquito repellent.
- Use latex condoms.
- Do not share needles or any devices that can break the skin (that includes tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.)
Malaria in Tanzania
Except at altitudes higher than 2000m, malaria is endemic throughout most of Tanzania and infection rates are higher during the rainy season.
It is caused by a parasite spread via the bite of the female anopheles mosquito. There is no vaccination against malaria, but medications do exist to prevent it, ‘thus it is important that travelers take advantage of them.
The early stages of malaria include headaches, fevers, and generalised aches and pains. Abdominal pain, diarrhoea and a cough can also develop. Anyone who gets a fever in Tanzania, or within 2 weeks after having visited the country, should undergo blood tests to make sure they have not been infected. If untreated, the next stage of the disease can develop within 24 hours. Treatment in hospital is essential.
If you choose not to take antimalarial drugs, you have to be very scrupulous about avoiding mosquito bites and reporting any flu-like symptoms to a doctor as soon as you feel them.
Other Health Advice for Tanzania
As long as you take basic preventive measures and stay up-to-date with your vaccinations, you should be able to avoid the worst health risks. Minor problems such as colds and diarrhea are the most likely problems.
Road accidents are a big danger which visitors should bear in mind. Avoid traveling at night, don’t catch the ‘dalla-dallas’ minibusses, and be very careful on the roads in general to minimize the chances of an accident.
Most doctors in Tanzania expect payment in cash so it’s best to find an insurer who makes direct payments to health providers, rather than one who will reimburse you later. Make sure your policy covers emergency transport in case you need treatment which is unavailable there.
Visitors should take a first-aid kit with them in case of minor illnesses or injuries. The following items are recommended:
- Aspirin or paracetamol
- Antibacterial ointment for cuts and skin abrasions
- Anti-diarrhoea drugs
- Anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen)
- Bandages and plasters
- Insect repellent
- Malaria self-diagnosis kit
- Pocket knife
- Rehydration salts
- Safety pins
- Sunblock (high factor)
- Water purification tablets