Although most after-travel illnesses are mild, such as a head cold or an upset stomach, some travellers become sick enough to seek care from a health care provider. Most after-travel illnesses become apparent soon after returning from abroad, but incubation periods vary, and some syndromes can present months to years after initial infection.

If you go to the doctor after returning from a trip, be sure to tell your doctor about your travel, including where you went and what you did on your trip. This information will help your doctor consider infections that are rare or not found in South Africa.

Some common travel-related illness

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite.  Malaria is serious and may be deadly. After you have left an area with malaria, it is very important that you continue taking your antimalarial drugs as prescribed. Malaria symptoms usually develop within 30 days, but they could appear up to a year after exposure. If you become ill with a fever or flu-like illness either while traveling in a malaria-risk area or up to 1 year after you return home, you should seek immediate medical attention and tell the clinician your travel history. Because malaria can be a medical emergency, your doctor must rule out malaria if you have been in an area with malaria risk within the past year. A fever could be from malaria even if you took antimalarial medicine, because the medicine, while very effective, is not 100% effective.


Enteric diseases affect your stomach or intestines. They can cause symptoms like diarrhoea, fever, or stomach cramps. Enteric diseases can be caused by a variety of germs. These germs typically enter the body through the mouth. They are acquired through contaminated food and water, by contact with animals or their environments, or by contact with the faeces (poop) of an infected person. Often, the germs are spread to food, water, or surfaces by the hands of an infected person who has not washed properly after using the bathroom. Some common enteric diseases include cholera, botulism, listeriosis, Hepatitis A, Salmonellosis and typhoid fever.

If you develop sudden, severe watery diarrhoea within 5 days of returning from a cholera-endemic area, you should be tested for cholera. Typhoid fever symptoms (intermittent fever, headache, abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhoea or constipation) are less specific but can resemble malaria. If you are presenting with these signs within 2-4 weeks of returning from a typhoid endemic area should be tested for typhoid. Both cholera and typhoid cases should be notified immediately.

To prevent being sick, read through these food and safety tips. 


African tick bite fever is a common and potentially dangerous infection that can be acquired when visiting the bush or farms anywhere in Africa. Clinically, tick bite fever can resemble malaria (fever, headache) at first, but is usually accompanied by an eschar (black mark or scab surrounded by inflamed skin at the site of infected tick bite), and painful regional lymph nodes. Sometimes a skin rash may be present. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice and is highly effective.


Some mosquito-borne viral infections (e.g. dengue, chikungunya, West Nile) circulate periodically in southern Africa and can resemble malaria. Any person who develops a fever, headaches, muscle/ joint pain or a skin rash should see a healthcare practitioner. Although there is no specific treatment, it is important in these cases to rule out malaria, which is frequently fatal without treatment. Dengue should also be considered in persons with fever, muscle pain and on occasion a rash, who have travelled to Thailand, India, others countries in Southeast Asia, East and West Africa, as well as to Central and South America. Most infections are mild and will resolve in a few days.


The temperate countries in the northern hemisphere (United Kingdom, Europe, North America) are experiencing their influenza season, and influenza should be considered in any person who develops upper respiratory tract symptoms, fever, and muscle/joint pain within a week of return from that region.


Diseases A-Z Index



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