Samui Wining & Dining
Common holiday maladies: what they are and what to do about them.

Common holiday maladies: what they are and what to do about them.The vast majority of holidaymakers who come to Samui never experience any mishap, malady or require any medical help. Samui and Thailand as a whole are fairly healthy places. But it’s only natural to worry, and that’s not a bad thing when it comes to looking after yourself when abroad. In this article, we take a look at some of the common problems that can beset the holidaymaker. Most can very easily be avoided, and all are fairly easy to sort out. Suffice to say that some people incur major problems, but this is beyond the scope of this article.


Topping the list of ailments is the possibility of getting an upset stomach and diarrhoea. This happens fairly commonly, and is usually mild and temporary. It may be enough to visit one of the island’s chemists, most of whom speak adequate English. They will ask questions and prescribe the appropriate medicine.


Most stomach problems clear up quickly, but it’s best not to leave them if they don’t. Some may worsen and cause major health problems. Some low grade types of food poisoning can continue indefinitely if left untreated.


If the symptoms aren’t severe and consist of nausea but with no actual vomiting and maybe low-grade diarrhoea, a recommended medication is Disento. It comes in a packet, and you just take two tablets every four hours. You can also use Ultracarbon, to absorb gas and toxins from the food poisoning. Again, it’s a question of two tablets every four hours, but don’t take at the same time as Disento. Leave 30 minutes between them.


However, some people will have more severe cases. Gastroenteritis is a condition accompanied by various symptoms such as stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, with or without fever. Not all these symptoms need to be present, but generally they’re intense. In such cases, don’t wait for the condition to get better by itself, but go straight to the doctor. On Samui, this usually means going to a hospital where you will be seen as an out-patient. Common holiday maladies: what they are and what to do about them.Gastroenteritis is a major cause for hospital visits and treatment. It generally doesn’t last longer than a few days, if treated, but without treatment can feel unbearable.


A secondary problem can also spring up once you’ve been suffering, and that’s dehydration. Often gastroenteritis and dehydration go together, making an unpleasant combination. Even after the gastroenteritis has cleared up, your body may be depleted and you’ll need to re-hydrate yourself. This can be done by drinking lots of water and taking oral rehydration sachets, which are available, again, at the chemists.


There are no sure-fire ways to avoid gastroenteritis, but you can minimize the risk by being cautious. Eat freshly-cooked food. Avoid oysters, shell-fish and raw food, and check that all sea-food and meat is properly cooked. If your chicken meat is pink in the middle, it’s time to put the fork down. If food is being taken from a freezer and put back again, this can be a major breeding ground for bacteria. Many problems arise from seafood and meat that hasn’t been properly cooked, or which has been stored or handled wrongly. This is something we all know.


Never drink tap water anywhere on Samui, and when drinking from a can, always use a straw, as the Thais do. The litany continues: avoid swallowing sea water or river water. Ice cubes are usually safe on Samui, but there have been problems at times. Don’t eat or stay in a place that has poor drainage or smells bad. Always wash your hands before eating. Use your intuition if you’re not sure if something is a risk, and err on the side of caution.


Dehydration can also be a problem that may have absolutely nothing to do with an upset stomach: the heat alone may cause it. Symptoms may not be noticeable, just tiredness and a lack of energy. It’s easily remedied by getting more electrolytes into your body. Go to a chemist’s and ask for sports rehydration drinks – about five Baht a sachet. Basically, you’ll need to rest, keep rehydrated, spend time in the shade or in air-conditioned rooms, avoid excessive alcohol intake and be careful if you are exercising in the heat. If you suspect you have a heat-related illness or heat exhaustion, then go immediately to a hospital.


Even the most casual visitor to Samui has heard how dangerous it can be to ride a motorbike here. It looks safe, however. Because of the poor roads and their congestion, most drivers and riders aren’t speeding along. So riding a motorbike looks easy, and what could go wrong pottering around the island’s palm-fringed roads? Well, a lot. That’s the simple answer. Even the slightest motorbike injury will severely limit your holiday fun.Common holiday maladies: what they are and what to do about them. Even if you just fall off – due to skidding on sand or sheer inexperience – your wounds will probably require dressing at a hospital. Due to the ease that infection can spread in tropical heat, you’ll need to take the doctor’s advice very carefully. And he or she is bound to tell you that as long as you have the bandages on, you shouldn’t get the affected area wet. This means no swimming. And as that’s probably something you like to do, this being an island, it’s going to limit your enjoyment. Avoid hiring a bike but if you decide to do so, make sure you wear a helmet that’s of substantial quality, wear shoes (this may sound obvious but not everyone does) and never drink and drive. The most common motorbike accidents are those that involve skin abrasion. You’ll need to go to one of the local hospitals, be evaluated by a doctor, and have your wound cleaned and in all probability return regularly for wound dressing. Incidentally, rented motorbikes do not come with insurance, but it is now possible to purchase this separately (Google ‘Siam Solution Insurance’ for more information).


Bites are quite common, and as with abrasion wounds, it’s easy for the bite to become infected. What will bite you here on Samui? Top of the list are dogs. This is followed by monkeys. Avoid cats, too, though they’re not so likely to bite. Snakes rarely bite as they tend to move away from humans, but be careful in long grass. Stamp your feet if you’re not sure – the vibration will make the snake move. Geckos and lizards can bite but you’d have to be very unlucky for this to happen; even if they may stare at you with impunity, they’ll move fast if you approach them. If bitten by a dog, cat or monkey, then you should go and see a doctor. You’ll probably be given a course of anti-rabies vaccinations (three shots are administered over the course of a month) and you may need a tetanus booster. If you’re bitten by a centipede that’s red and looks something like a zipper, then this will be a very painful experience and you may be advised to go to a doctor for the pain alone. Shake out your shoes, if you’ve left them outside, though you’re more likely to find a frog in them than a centipede. Generally be cautious around animals, even if they appear friendly.


Getting bitten by a mosquito may seem harmless in comparison, and generally is, but you need to protect yourself against them by using mosquito repellent (available in all pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores). Close your windows as dusk falls, but be careful during the day, too. You probably know that mosquitoes can cause dengue fever. Symptoms include any or all of the following severe headache, high fever, vomiting and muscle and joint pain. If you suspect that you have dengue fever, go to a hospital and quickly. But there can also be other problems with mosquitoes, too. Some bites can get infected and if, for example, your legs have large red inflamed spots where they’ve been bitten, then go to a pharmacy.


To relieve the itchiness of a bite, rub in some Thai medication that’s unforgettably called ‘White Monkey Holding Peach Balm’. Available everywhere, you’ll recognize the balm by its box that shows ... uh, a white monkey holding peach balm. However, you may ponder the name and the drawing so long that the itchiness simply goes by the time you’ve applied the balm. But it works – and fast.


A different kind of skin problem is also quite common here, too. It’s called prickly heat and is an itchy rash of small, raised red spots that causes a stinging or prickling sensation. It can occur anywhere, but it most often targets your face, neck, back, chest or thighs. Head for just about anywhere for relief: convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies all stock the goto remedy, Prickly Heat Powder. Look for an old-fashioned type of tin picturing a snake shot through with an arrow, and never mind serpents or archery, immediately apply to the affected areas for instant relief. Spending a couple of hours in an air-conditioned room per day also helps. Babies and children are also more at risk of getting prickly heat, because their sweat glands are not fully developed.


Other rashes are best treated by a visit to a doctor – again a hospital will be able to help. Rashes can also be caused, for example, by the sun, a sudden food reaction, or contact with an object that sets them off.


Jellyfish are to be avoided. If the water’s clear then wearing goggles when swimming will reveal some of them. Pour vinegar over the sting to ease the pain if you do get stung. If you’re stung by a Box jellyfish, then go to a hospital immediately. Check shorelines for washed-up jellyfish, and if you see one, then you can reckon there may be others in the water itself.


A danger that many overlook while seemingly keeping it in mind is ... the sun. Many people will go easy on the sun-tan cream if the sky is overcast or the sun is veiled and they’ll put aside their hats, too. These are bad mistakes to make as you can still get tanned and therefore burned if the sky is overcast. And just because it’s not hot, doesn’t mean to say your skin’s not burning.Common holiday maladies: what they are and what to do about them. Sitting on a speedboat, enjoying the cooling breeze may lull you into a false sense of security. We associate sun burn with lying out on our towels too long, but it can just as easily happen if you’re on a boat trip. A pharmacy can help you out if you’re sunburned, but for anything serious, then head for the hospitals.


A couple of other things. Although not so common, be careful of leaving your drink unattended especially if you’re in a doubtful kind of bar. Sometimes, drinks get spiked. Passing out is just one the unpleasant symptoms. Your wallet may also, of course, be affected. And speaking of bars, be careful who you take home with you. Condoms break and here in Thailand sex can be far, far riskier than in many other places in the world. If the worst happens, head for a hospital where the doctor will first determine what tests you’ll need. If you’re a guy thinking about having ‘a good time’ then maybe just treat yourself to a preventative dose of Google and read about the scams, troubles, and dangers of casual sex here in Thailand.


Summing it all up, motorbikes, sunburn and upset stomach are the most common maladies that can spoil your holiday. Avoid hiring a bike, put on the sun tan and you’ll avoid many of the problems. The upset stomach is a bit trickier – but if you exercise care where you eat and what you eat, you’ll already be cutting down on the likelihood of falling sick. And if you do fall sick, there are five hospitals to cater for your needs as well as some hundred or so pharmacies. Remember that your little ones are probably going to be more susceptible to the sun and maybe to bad food. But by taking some simple precautions, you’re statistically very likely to have a care-free time on Samui.


 Dimitri Waring


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