That is what my Grandmother asked me ten years ago when, in a brilliant case of foreshadowing, I took my first trip to Africa - Tanzania. Of course I took all the precautions a virgin traveler to the dark continent might take. I visited a travel medicine clinic and got a multitude of shots against everything from typhoid to hepatitis A, from yellow fever to polio. I religiously took anti-malarial medicine. Not knowing what to expect, I bought myself a safari hat with mosquito netting hanging over it - so when I was in the deep dark jungle of Dar es Salaam I would be protected from all the little evil bugs that bite.
[Looking back on it - I find the hat thing kind of embarrassing, especially when I think about how proud I was when I told my boss (who had lived in Africa for 30 years) about my amazing ingenuity.]
I was protected from all the bad health outcomes I could face - I told my Grandmother. And I really thought so - at least until I had that month-long case of amoebic dysentery. [But that's a whole other story involving lots of intestinal dysfunction - and I know you don't really what to hear about it now.] But I must say, that aside from that first trip - I've never had a tropical illness during my travels. The flu, yes. Menstrual cramps, yes. A corn on my pinky toe from sandals that were too tight, yes. But black fever, no. Dengue fever, no. Malaria, no (and knock on wood).
After you travel to Africa and Asia for 10 years and never get sick, you start to think you may be immune to all those terrible diseases. After all, I've had tons of mosquito bites, but never contracted malaria. And even though my Johns Hopkins University public health degree taught me that there is no such thing as immunity to malaria, I thought perhaps that I am different.
Am I, indeed, immune to tropical diseases?
But then there was last week. I woke up one morning and I was really, really, really sick. I could barely get out of bed. It hurt like hell to swallow. My glands were swollen into golf balls. I was certain that this was it! My time was up! See... I was reckless the weekend before. I bit my fingernails without washing my hands thoroughly. This was typhoid, I was convinced. Or maybe it was an unusual presentation of malaria. Or perhaps there was schistosomiasis in my pool?
The doctor thought my self-diagnosis was pretty funny - so funny that he had a big belly laugh over it. See... he rarely sees malaria in ex-pats, has only once seen someone with typhoid, had a case of suspected dengue fever once which turned out to just be a common flu, and has never treated a patient with schistosomiasis.
Turns out I had strep throat (for the first time ever - actually). And man, that sucked. It really had me down for the count - for an entire week. And now Jaden has some version of it - and that sucks even more.
But the good news is that I remain invincible - knock on wood. There is no avian flu in the Mahler household! Bring on the common cold!