Boksburg Hiking Club Web Site




Don't die on the Hike

Survival tips

Ailments in the Bush


Ailments in the Bush

CONSTIPATION:  Drink lots of liquid and eat dried fruit. Stand rather then sit.

DYSENTERY:  To avoid it boil all water or use efficient filter. Sterilise all eating and drinking utensils. Eat solid starchy food.

DEHYDRATION:  The condition leads to dizziness and tingling of the skin. The only remedy is copious amounts of water.

EXHAUSTION:  Take aspirin and sleep. Eat sweets and nutritious liquids, not much but often.

FISH HOOKS:  Snip off the eyelet and push the hook all the way through, barb first.

POISONING:  Fresh white ash from a hardwood fire mixed with water is an antidote.

SAP IN YOUR EYE: From naboom, candelabra tree or tamboti. Irrigate the eyes with water or blink them under water. If an object is lodged in the eye, place a wet pad over it and bandage it in place.

All about Blisters

On a trail it is important to take care of your feet - after all they have to get you to your destination! Ensure that your toenails are clipped short and if you are prone to blisters in a particular spot cover it with gauze and a strip of plaster before setting off. To ease the friction, smear your feet with soap, preferably shaving soap, which is the finest.

As soon as you become aware of a ‘hot spot’ on your feet it is advisable to stop immediately and cover the suspect area with gauze and a strip of plaster. This might not prevent a blister, but it will delay it for a couple of hours.

Other points to remember:

Sand or grit, which gets into your socks should be removed immediately as the irritation is likely to cause a blister.

After crossing a river you should dry your feet thoroughly as wet skin is more prone to blisters.

To treat the blister it is best to pearce it at the earliest opportunity. A needle sterilized in fire should be used and is best done at the end of days hiking. After piercing, the blister must be dabbed liberally with Merthiolate, left open during the night and covered with plaster before putting on your boots the following morning. However, should you completed your hike, the blister is best left to heal by itself.



Barring mosquitoes, few insects are as villainous as ticks. The tick-borne disease of most concern to hikers is tick-bite fever. It is transmitted by tiny bacteria-like parasites of the genus Rickettsia. The disease occurs all over sub-Saharan Africa, except in arid desert regions where conditions are inimical to ticks.

All things considered, the life cycle of the female tick is not an unpleasant one. It consists of attach, mate, guzzle host's blood till engorged, fall off, lay a batch of eggs, die. These hatch into six-legged larvae that crawl up onto blades of grass and wait for a host.

After feeding on the host the larvae breed into nymphs which in turn mold into adult ticks. Unlike nymphs and adult ticks, which tend to be host-specific, the larvae will bite anything when they are hungry. For this reason, most humans are infected by the tiny, difficult-to- detect larvae, the red specks hikers call pepper ticks.

Incorrect diagnoses for tick-bite fever are common, because, as does malaria, the decease produces symptoms similar to those of flu and only half of all patients have an obvious tick bite. Untreated infections can result in serious complications, even death.

Although rare, another tick-borne disease of concern is Congo fever. In fact it was first isolated in 1944 in the Crimean Peninsula when 200 people developed it after sleeping outdoors. The initial symptoms are once again similar to those of flu, but later the patient starts to bleed from all surfaces and apertures.

Approximately 12 cases and one fatality are reported in South Africa every year. The principal culprits are ticks known as bontlegged ticks. These are large and dark brown, with characteristic red and white-banded legs. Unlike some tick species which wait hopefully on a blade of grass for a host, adult bont-legged ticks are hunters and will scuttle some distance to bite an ill-fatted camper.

Prevention: Inspect your body after walking in the veld and remove ticks by hand. Look out for pepper ticks in ears, neck and groin area. Spray a special tick repellent onto shoes, socks and trouser hem. Normal insect repellent doesn't work for ticks. Avoid sleeping on the ground, particularly from October to April, when the ticks are most active. Don't camp where large herbivorous animals congregate.

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Bilharzia is a common and extremely unpleasant disease. It is caused by parasitic worms which require both human and snail host in order to complete their complex life cycle. The larval form of this worm swims in river water, burrows through the skin of the human host and migrates via the veins, heart and lungs to the liver where it grows up, mates and heads for either the bladder or intestine to lay its eggs.

All rivers that flow into the eastern seaboard, as far south as the Transkei, are potential habitats for the snails that are hosts to the parasites. Lakes and dams are also not above suspicion. Lake Malawi, for one, is definitely a bilharzia zone despite strident claims to the contrary.

If you have caught bilharzia, the first noticeable symptoms will appear after a month or so, when abdominal pain and diarrhoea, or the appearance of blood in the urine will follow muscle pain and fever. The disease can range from being fairly symptomless to having extremely serious complications. A particularly nasty complication is Katayama fever, which occurs when the human host develops a severe allergic reaction in response to the presence of foreign animal protein.

Parasitic disorders are rare, except malaria, so there is no need to be paranoid about being infected. But it is vital that you be extra vigilant about your health after a suspect hike. Much tropical decease start with mild symptoms resembling flu, so the patient sometimes fails to recognise the severity of his illness. Anybody who develops such symptoms, however mild, within three months of returning from a trip anywhere in rural Africa should seek medical attention without delay.

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Last modified: February 23, 1999