You might think you already know this guy or girl.  You know the stereotypes.  We have the stinker, snorer, snoozie-nooner, party guy, captain go-go-go, no-doe, and the travel guru to name a few.   Great, but I’m not talking about any of them.

I’m talking about a different kind of travel buddy that you will want to avoid at all cost.  I’m talking about something so opportunistic that it gives a whole new meaning to the word “mooch”.  These guys aren’t your buddy at all.  These guys are true parasites.

After this photo I’m going to get a drink.

1.) Giardia Lamblia – Topping our list as one of the most common is this guy.  He might have you go-go-go but it’s always to the same place, the toilet.

Somewhere along the trail you came into contact with infected feces, ut-oh.  Most likely it was in the form of contaminated food or water.  The Route of infection, fecal-oral – eww!

If your traveling in developing countries where poor sanitary conditions, water quality control and overcrowding are prevalent then you are at increased risk.

Also at risk are campers and backpackers.  This is particularly true in mountainous regions where streams can be infected with human or animal waste and carry Giardia cysts (resting stage).  Always treat your water.

Once you ingest the cysts the acid in your stomach activates the cysts and releases trophozoites (active form of parasite in your body).  From this point it’s all fun and games for the parasite as it attaches to your small intestine and starts to reproduce.  As you pass feces it now contains more cysts waiting to reinfect another.

In the meantime you are blessed with sudden explosive foul smelling diarrhea, excessive gas, bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, tiredness and loss of appetite.  When you think about the parasites method of infection your symptoms are great for its survival and desired goal to find more human hosts.

Preventive Measures for Travelers –  Practice good hygiene, follow food and water precautions (appropriate water filtering), avoid accidental water intake during swimming.

Fun History –  Giardia is often referred to as “Beaver Fever” due to the high occurrence of campers getting the disease from drinking contaminated water inhabited by beavers.

Not Funny

2.)  Leishmaniasis, Cutaneous – This next one is going to have you feeling like the stinker.  Why?  Because once people catch site of your ugly lesions they are gonna avoid you like the plague.

This travel buddy can be picked up in southern Europe as well parts of the tropics and subtropics.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 90% of the world’s cases of CL occur in eight countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria (Old World); and Brazil and Peru (New World).  Over 75% U.S. civilian cases are acquired in Latin America, including popular tourist destinations such as Costa Rica.

Travelers at increased risk for CL include adventure travelers, bird watchers, ecotourists, missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, soldiers and anyone doing research outdoors particularly at night.

The vector-borne culprit is an infected female phlebotomine sand fly.  Risk for infection is highest from dusk to dawn as they are night feeders.  Although less active in the day, they may bite unsuspecting hikers that brush against tree trunks or other resting places.

The event of infection can go completely unnoticed.  Sand flies make no buzzing noise, are about 1/3 the size of mosquitoes and don’t have a wicked mean bite.  It’s what comes after that will remind you of your friendly new travel buddy.

Preventive Measures for Travelers –  Reduce contact with sand flies.  Avoid outdoor activities especially during the hours from dusk till dawn.  Wear protective clothing and barriers.  Use a repellent with DEET.

Fun History– That was the good kind.  Visceral leishmaniasis, also known as kala-azar or black fever is the most severe form of leishmaniasis.  If left untreated it will certainly cause death.  Here’s the bad news,  the World Health Oganization reports that in southern Sudan, “the number of cases from September 2009 until now is more than six times higher than in 2007-08.” and “more than 6,000 people have been infected and over 300 have died in the last year.”

It’s just a Mosquito Bite

3.)  Malaria – genus: Plasmodium  The good old standby.  If you travel abroad, come home and fall ill everyone will be quick to say “you probably have Malaria”.  So do you?

According to the CDC there are about 1,500 cases of Malaria in the U.S each year, mostly from returned travelers.  Sub-Saharan Africa travelers are at the greatest risk for both getting malaria and dying from the infection.  However, any country where malaria is present results in a risk for travelers.

A great tool for you to use is the CDC Malaria Map Application.  Users can search a interactive map and get information about malaria endemicity in any particular region.  What’s great is it recommended medications for malaria prevention for that particular area.

Mosquitoes are the culprit carrying the parasite that causes Malaria.  Mosquitoes are also the thing you want to avoid to avoid picking up this new travel buddy.  Can you imagine that, heading out camping realizing there was a real legitimate risk of contracting Malaria.  People in the States often joke, “Probably got Malaria” after being bit a bunch but we don’t really think we have it.

But what if the circumstances are right?  You were in a high risk area, you got bit by mosquitoes.  Did you know you could come down with symptoms up to a year later.  Anyone that has traveled abroad should seek immediate medical attention up to a year after any possible exposure if symptoms present.  Malaria is always a serious illness and sometimes deadly.  Symptoms of Malaria include fever and a flu like illness.

Preventative Measures for Travelers –   Avoid contact with mosquito bites through the usual means including protective clothing, repellents, insecticide treated bed nets, etc.  If you know you are traveling into a high risk area you should consider bringing malaria prevention medicines.  Consult the Malaria information by country table list to see the CDC-recommended options.

Bringing your own medicine will give you some peace of mind and in the event you are diagnosed with Malaria abroad.  This will ensure you have immediate access to an appropriate high quality anti-malarial treatment plan.  Not doing so could leave you in a bad situation.  In some countries where Malaria is present it is not unheard of to receive counterfeit or sub-standard drug treatment.

Fun History – The word “malaria” comes from the Italian mala aria, and means “bad air.” It was believed that malaria was actually caused by breathing in bad air—namely, foul vapors emanating from swamps, latrines, and so on. The stagnant water provided a breeding ground for mosquitoes which was actually the responsible culprit capable of spreading the parasite.

We Found This Inside You

4.)  Ascaris lumbricoides– This is the largest nematode (roundworm) that can parasitize the human intestine and it’s also the most common.  This thing can actually grow 5 to 35 inches long and produce more than 200,000 eggs per day inside the body.

Infection occurs worldwide but is most common in tropical and subtropical areas.  Developing countries where sanitation and hygiene are poor result in higher risk.

Ascaris Infection occurs when a person accidentaly ingest ascaris eggs found in soil.  Common routes of infection include contaminated food or touching your mouth with your hands after coming into contact with the eggs.

Once in the small intestine the eggs hatch into immature worms.  The larvae migrate to the lungs and then to the throat where they are swallowed. When they reach the intestines they develop into adult worms.  The adult female is responsible for laying eggs which will eventually pass into ones feces.

Symptoms can be mild (adominal discomfort) to none.  Slow weight gain or growth is often associated with Ascaris infection.  If your thinking this sounds like a great way to lose way think again.  Heavy worm infections have been known to cause a intestinal blockage.

Preventative Measures for Travelers– Telling you to avoid contact with soil that may contain human feces sounds redicoulous but make sure you do this.  If possible don’t deficate outdoors.  Always dispose of diapers properly.  Wash hands with soap and water before handling food and avoid any food that may be contaminated with soil.  Wash, peel or cook your food throughly before consumption.

Fun History–  Has anyone heard of the  new weight loss craze in Hong Kong?  Apparently, certain Chinese-language websites have been promoting the use of products that contain Ascaris worm eggs with the promise of fast weight loss.  Did you see what I said at the start of this article, these things can grow up to 35 inches long.  Don’t do It!

Aside from the obvious gross factor these worms can cause serious complications including death.  No more needs to be said.

BONUS BUG)  Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius) – These guys are the real travel gurus.  If they talked you would likely get a earful of how they traveled harder, further and just plain better then you ever did.

You would likely hear stories of how they hopped one backpack in a crowded metro car to another and then got a free stay in a 4 star hotel after two nights bumming in some filthy flat.  The next day they decided to travel again with some complete stranger they picked up in bed and ended up on a 7 day cruise.  Not ready to go home yet they hopped bags at luggage in the airport and were on their way to Tahiti.  Wow, What a life.

For more on Bed Bugs please visit our full post on Bed Bugs and Traveling.

Bonus Fun About Parasites– Did you know most parasites need a host, often more than one different kind to complete thier life cycle.  Check out this cool video on how the clever parasite gets it done.

After two days of touring the castle and museums in Berat I head off for a hike and a local cultural experience  in the nearby mountains. Berat is not so touristy that it’s lost its authenticity but still, there are a few other tourists wandering about and I want to go someplace where there are no other tourists.

I walk to the bus station and catch a bus to Bogove, where there are reported to be some beautiful waterfalls and a swimming hole that the locals enjoy.  The bus is a big one, an old touring bus too worn out for tourists but upscale for a local bus.  By the time we reach the edge of Berat it’s full.  We ride for an hour through a landscape similar to western Colorado.  There’s a lot of that here.

This road resembles the road between Crawford and Gunnison: steep drop-offs to our right, heavily forested, high snow-capped peaks in the distance.  The main difference here is that I’m riding in a large bus and about every 300 yards we pass a bouquet of flowers marking the place where someone – or a busload of someones – flew off the edge into Never-Never Land.  They say that auto accidents are the leading cause of death in Albania.  I saw a couple on my way from Macedonia and I believe what they say.

There aren’t enough passengers continuing on from Skrappar to Bogove so I must wait for the next furgon – a mini-bus – to load up.  This is a nice little town.  A wide promenade leads from a large square where the buses and taxis congregate so I decide to stroll along and do a little people-watching while waiting.  It’s mid-morning coffee time; people of all ages are strolling the promenade and men fill the cafes drinking coffee.  Women don’t sit and drink coffee in Albania.  It’s acceptable for foreign women to do so because, well, they’re strange, but a local woman would never do that.  After the stroll I return to the square to sit in the sun and keep my eye on the mini-bus.  I have no idea what time it will leave, what time I must be back from Bogove to catch the return bus to Berat, nor for that matter do I have any idea what time it is in the moment!  I’m soon joined by Buca Rosa – her name means Beautiful Rose in English.

Now . . .  there are 3 kinds of Albanians when it comes to communicating with foreigners.  There are those who speak English and enjoy talking with you in English.  There are those who don’t speak English, never utter a word but who are very adept at communicating with hand signals, facial expressions, and tone of voice.  Then there are those who speak only Albanian and know you don’t speak or understand Albanian but that doesn’t phase them.  They chatter away.  Buca Rosa is one of the last.  I think perhaps she is a little simple-minded, but she is very sweet nonetheless.  In the end she asks me if I will take her photo and she poses with a broken and crumpled unlit cigarette and a rose, then hands me the two roses she has picked from the park’s garden.  The furgon begins filling and I go to catch it.  Good-bye, beautiful Rose. I shall not pass this way again.

The following day I leave Berat for Tirana.  I don’t quite know where I am when the furgon drops me off in Tirana.  The guide book had said I would be dropped off near the train station.  I look around,  but there is none.  I try to get oriented, but before I can I’m surrounded by helpful Albanians.  I must tell you, the Albanian willingness to help is wonderful.  But it can be a little difficult to manage when it’s six taxi drivers who don’t speak English and want to get you loaded into the next available taxi.  It becomes a bit like playing the game Charades.  I say a word and one of the taxi drivers thinks he understands and begins animatedly telling the others what I want and waving for me to get into the taxi.

“No, no, no!” I protest, and sit down on the curb with my guide book to gather my thoughts.  Soon a random passerby is pulled into the discussion.  He seems to understand most of my needs but he can’t understand something as complex as –

“Are there good places to stay in Shkodra? I don’t yet know if I want to stay here in Tirana or go on to Shkodra.” or, “I have all these leke I need to exchange before I leave the country.  Is there a bank nearby?”

So I hunker down with my book again and try to ignore the fray above me.  But my book is still no help.  There are no hotels or hostels listed for Shkodra and I have no idea how many leke I’ll need to get there.  I finally decide to let them hustle me into a taxi and get on with my life, trusting in Fate once again.  I tell the tax driver to take me to the bus station but no sooner is the door of the taxi closed then I decide I should just stay in Tirana.

I know of a good hostel here and I can get myself settled and oriented in peace and quiet.  I also know the hostel owners will speak English and be able to guide me where I want to go.  I don’t particularly want to stay in Tirana but neither do I want to stay in Shkodra so I may as well stay in Tirana where the landscape is somewhat known.  At least I have a map and a guide to the city and at least I know there’s someplace I can get the information I need.  So I direct the driver to the Tirana Backpacker Hostel.

“What?”  He looks at me like I’m insane, shrugs his shoulders and says something to his friends and we head to the hostel.

This was the right decision.  It’s a very nice hostel.  The owner and staff do indeed speak good English, there’s a kitchen available for my use and a grocery store just down the street.  I know exactly how many leke I’ll need to get out of Dodge tomorrow and I can settle in for the afternoon and write.  As I settle into my room the clouds open up and pour.  Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain.  I don’t care.