There has been a dramatic increase in the incidence of malaria throughout Africa, and Botswana has endemic malarial areas particularly in northern Botswana during the warmer months from November to June (see climate). It's a good idea to consult a doctor at least two weeks prior to entering Botswana and to take every precaution advised. The most important thing to do is to take anti-malaria drugs two weeks prior the visit.
Other precautions should therefore be taken in all malarial areas:
- Apply insect repellent to exposed skin
- Wear light cotton clothing, long sleeves, long trousers and closed shoes after sunset
- Clothes should be treated with an appropriate insecticide
- Take precautions when going outside between dawn and dusk
- Use mosquito nets treated with insecticide, or use mosquito coils or mats
- During the rainy season, the risk of malaria is higher
Malaria symptoms can appear up to six months after leaving a malaria region. As soon as the following symptoms appear consult a medical practitioner:
• Abdominal pain
• Loss of appetite
• Slight jaundice
Ticks can be found in the bush all over Botswana. The best precautionary measures are to keep your body well covered when walking in the bush and to use an insect repellent. Nevertheless, there is the risk of being bitten, so check your body carefully afterwards. If a tick has burrowed into the skin, it will appear as a small black dot (a common area is around the ankles and lower legs) and may go septic.
Common symptoms of tick-bite fever are headache, fever, tenderness in the glands, general body ache and neck stiffness. If you seek medical help early enough, tetracycline treatment can modify the course of the illness.
Sun and heat-related problems
Newcomers to Botswana may experience salt depletion and heat exhaustion, particularly in the summer season. Symptoms include weariness, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps.
Preventive measures include taking salt tablets, drinking plenty of water and fruit juices (drink at least three litres of liquid daily), avoiding prolonged direct exposure to the sun, and avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol as this causes dehydration. Use sunscreen liberally when in the sun and always carry sunglasses and a sunhat.
Of the 60 species of snake in Botswana, 12 are venomous. These venomous snakes fall into three categories: cytotoxic (cell-destroying), neurotoxic (acting on the nerves), and hemotoxic (acting on the blood).
Snakes are not usually aggressive. Sensing ground vibrations, they will usually retreat before they are seen.
One good precautionary measure is to wear shoes or boots, which protect your feet well. Wear socks and long trousers if walking through undergrowth. If you see a snake, make a slow retreat, moving steadily and slowly backwards. The exception to this is the spitting cobra. In the unlikely event that you come across a spitting cobra it is advisable that you remain completely still. The snake is very shortsighted and will spit at the first thing that glints, very possibly your eye. If you remain still the snake will probably move away.
In the case of a snake-bite, take the following steps:
- Identify the snake and establish whether it is venomous or not. You will need to know what kind of snake it is to know what venom it has; using the wrong kind of anti-venom serum can kill the victim
- If possible kill the snake. Identification of the snake is important.
- Immobilize the limb immediately - wrap a crepe bandage and put on a splint
- Do NOT apply a tourniquet or attempt to suck the bite
- Treat the victim for shock; disinfect the area of the bite
- Get the victim to a clinic or hospital immediately; if the snake has been positively identified, the doctor or nurse will assist in procuring anti-venom serum
Visitors should be aware that the incidence of HIV and AIDS is high throughout southern Africa, and Botswana is no exception.
Bilharzia is an ever-present threat in many African streams and rivers. To avoid contracting Bilharzia one should stay out of the water. The disease is easily cured and cannot be caught by drinking untreated water.
Tap water is safe to drink in Botswana's urban areas.