In some areas, stay healthy while traveling can be a challenge. Although it’s one of the most beautiful region on the planet, Central Asia is one of these risky areas for travelers. Some bacteria, parasites or virus which almost completely disappeared from our occidental countries, are still active here. If locals have developed additional defenses, our sometimes weak bodies are more sensitive to those attacks. But don’t panic ! Most of the infections you can catch here are benign, easy to avoid and treat, if you have appropriate habits and information. This is the purpose of this article.
Here we are going to help you to :
- Know the risks
- Avoid them
- Know the symptoms of the main diseases
- Treat the symptoms
- Explain your troubles in Russian
- Know where to find help
We are going to focus on the risks incurred in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Malaria can occur from May to October in some Kyrgyz and Tajik regions. The risk is not high, but it does exist in : Gorno-Badakshan, Khatlon, Duchanbe, Leninabad, the western border of Kyrgyzstan and Bishkek area.
Malaria is an infection transmitted by mosquitoes. They bite mostly during the night and in the evening.
Be aware of stereotypes ! Despite what most people think, mosquitoes are not attracted by the light, so staying in the dark is not useful to avoid them. They are attracted by heat and bodies’ smell.
To avoid it, you can adopt some easy habits :
- Wear large, covering and light clothes
- Spray your clothes and skin with an insecticide
- Cover your bed/tent with a net
- Use repulsive electric diffuser to protect your room at night
Some medicines are available as well, but not necessary here due to the low level of risk.
Symptoms that you should be aware of :
There are difficult to spot because very commons (fever, digestive disorders, muscle aches…) but in case of persistent fever following mosquito bites, you should go to the doctor once back home.
2. Typhoid fever
Typhoid fever is an infection due to a bacteria transmitted by water and food. It is highly contagious. It can occur evrywhere is Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
To avoid it, here are some simple rules of hygiene :
- Wash your hands carefully after/before going to the toilets (use hydroalcoholic serum that you can easily find in pharmacies or even supermarkets)
- Don’t drink water from the tap or from the rivers if you don’t have an efficient filter
- Be careful with fruits and vegetables, if you can’t wash them with drinkable water, choose food that you can peel before eating (oranges, bananas…)
- Be careful with hot drinks. If the water is boiled, most of the bacteria are destroyed but in many places, locals don’t boil the water for the tea for example, they only heat it. In that case, the risk of contamination is still high.
The best way to avoid typhoid fever is vaccination. Talk to your doctor before leaving your country.
Symptoms are pretty commons :
- High fever
- Muscle aches
- Stomach aches
- Unusual tiredness
- Digestive troubles (diarrhea, constipation)
To have a precise diagnosis, you should go to see a doctor and have some blood and feces analysis.
3. Intestinal infections
They are transmitted by parasites (sometimes some kind of little worms or their eggs) who will stay in your intestines after a contamination by water, food or contact with infected surfaces.
To avoid this risk (really high in the region), the rules are pretty much the same as for typhoid fever :
- Hands hygiene
- Avoid risky food (raw or not well cooked, fruits or vegetables which you can’t wash…)
- Use a filter or drink only bottled water
Symptoms are quite similar as well :
- Diarrhea +++ (feces are often watery and yellow)
- Stomach ache
- Sometimes fever
They last 4 to 5 days and are really invalidating. For the cyclists/people who camp, try to find a comfy place to stay, don’t stay alone in the nature, you will have tough moments !
4. Altitude sickness
Altitude sickness (or acute mountain sickness) is caused by rapid exposure to altitude, when your body struggles to adapt itself. This risk is high while traveling in the Pamir, because it can occur from 2500 m / 3000 m above sea level.
The most common symptoms are :
- Difficulties to fall asleep
To avoid it, there is no magical recipe. You can’t know if you will suffer from altitude sickness of not, our bodies are unequal. A good hydration can help.
One of the general rule is not to sleep more than 400m higher than the night before. So you should ride the Pamir step by step, to help your body to adapt to the reduction of oxygen in the air.
There is a preventive medicine : acetazolamide (Diamox) but it’s difficult to find in the region, better to take it beforehand, in your country. Ask your doctor. You can take a pill twice a day as soon as you start the ascent.
Be careful ! This medicine is a diuretic (it means that it helps to get rid faster from urines) so you should drink a lot to compensate (don’t wait to be thirsty).
Altitude sickness can lead to serious troubles, but fortunately it’s really rare for healthy people. It can be acute pulmonary edema or cerebral edema.
Symptoms are alarming and impressive, such as breathlessness (even when resting), loss of conscious, balance troubles, cough with or without sparkling spittle.
The main treatment is to go down ! In general, 500m are enough to help and it should not leave any aftermath.
If, despite all your precautions you still got sick, here are some medicines easy to find to treat the most common symptoms :
- Fever/Headache : paracetamol (парацетамол), 1 g every 6 hours in case of persistent fever
- Diarrhea : : *nifuroxazide (нифуроксазид) 200 mg every 6 hours (maximum 3 days) OR *smecta (смекта) ; 3 times a day (7 days maximum)
- Nausea/vomiting : métopimazine Vogalène (вогален) 1 pill a day OR dompéridone (домперидон) 1 pill 3 times a day.
Be careful ! Those medicines are delivered without prescription because of the low rate of side effects and allergies. But, if you don’t know those medicines or if you have a chronicle disease, talk to your doctor. The advice on this article can’t replace a medical check-up.
Furthermore, Central Asia is a risky area for hepatitis A and B. Once again, the best way to prevent it is the vaccination (anticipate it before leaving your country).
About the medical facilities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
Unfortunately, even in big cities, medical standards regarding equipment, hygiene and facilities are very far from the occidental ones. Visiting a local hospital can be really scary for someone used to european health system for example. In case of serious troubles, even locals are going to India or China. Regarding visa issues, it would probably be easier for you to fly to Turkey where the medical system is really performing.
We can recommend some place still though :
- Bishkek : Eldik Family Medicine Clinic (2 american doctors work there)
1,2 jash gvardiya boulevard (in front of the swimming pool Delphin ‘Дельфин‘)
Mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone : 0776 652 079
- Dushanbe : Prospekt Medical Clinic
33 Sanoi street
Email : email@example.com
Phone : + 992 37 224 30 92
Except those places, it would be better for you not to go alone in a hospital, ask some help to locals. You’ll find a lot of “polyclinics”, those centers are not recommended because of the lack of hygiene and asepsis. Moreover, it’s common that the medical staff refuses to take care of foreigners – or ask for some kind of bribe.
Emergency numbers in Kyrgizstan:
State’s services : 103
Private services : 1339
The public services are cheaper but the private services are faster. If you have an insurance or don’t mind paying more, we advise you to call the private services.
In case of emergency, if you need help to translate, you can call our manager Aigul (whatsApp) :
+996 553 280 881
Be careful ! When you buy medicines, go to the pharmacies. There are a lot of medicines at the bazaar but most of them are counterfeit.
Some useful worlds in Russian to explain what you have :
I am sick : я болею
I have a headache : у меня болит голова
I have stomach ache : у меня болит живот
I have diarrhea : у меня понос
I vomited : меня вырвало
I have a nausea : меня тошнит
Where is the hospital ? : где больница ?
I need to see a doctor : мне нужно врач