Getting Sick In South East Asia

Sickness is an unfortunate part of life both at home and overseas. If you spend any significant amount of time in south east Asia then getting sick is only a matter of time. Food poisoning, tropical fevers and a good many contagious diseases, they're all here waiting for you.

Illnesses here all seem to have more or less the same symptoms…


Aching bones and joints

These can range from your typical flu aches and pains all the way up the pain produced by a mosquito borne disease called Dengue fever. Dengue fever is also known as breakbone fever due to the pain it causes and is not as uncommon as some people seem to believe.


Once the aching joints set in a persistent headache is never far behind. Awesome.


Some people pay good money to sit in a sauna and sweat. You'll get all the sweat you could ever want for free. Drinking lots of non-alcoholic fluids is key. Either get some electrolyte powder or ask someone to get some for you while they're picking up that 6 pack of 2 litre bottles of water. If none is available, click here here for instructions on making your own basic oral rehydration solution using water, sugar and salt. Do not just drinks lots of Gatorade or similar. They were never intended to be drunk in huge quantities and, due to whatever else is in them besides water, sugar and salt, they will make your stomach worse.

It will help you feel a little better if you shower regularly. While you're at it try to occasionally change your clothes and even your bedding if someone can do that for you. Staggering back to bed to be greeted by your own sweat silhouette isn't very nice.

Abdominal pain and diarrhoea

This is a fun one two combination. Not being able to go more than 20 feet from your toilet may be a fact of life for a while. At first you will run. After a while you'll find yourself reduced to a slow laboured shuffle. Most people think they have had diarrhoea but until you have had crystal clear water pass unchanged through you, you have not.

If you're lucky you'll only experience one night spent lying, drenched in sweat with a pounding headache, periodically shuffling to the toilet so you can sit and wish for either recovery or speedy death. If luck does not smile on you you may have to manage through days of this…

There are however a few warning signs that you should get yourself to a doctor immediately.

Bloody diarrhoea

This can be a sign that you have a bacterial infection or amoebic dysentery. Both of these are easy to contract in the tropics. They're both (usually) easy to treat but if left untreated they can be very very serious.

Chest pains

Being ill stresses every part of your body. In my experience its rare for someone to be extremely ill and to not occasionally become aware that their heart is working very hard indeed. Listen to your body. If anything unusual for you and your heart is happening then get to a hospital.

What day is it?

And of course, if you're seriously ill for longer than 24 to 48 hours and feel like you're not improving or still getting worse then you should figure out how to get yourself to a doctor. This one is a bit subjective. I've simply waited out an illness that lasted days because I wasn't really THAT sick and I wasn't getting any worse. Maybe I was just being stubborn… Just don't wait until you're not able to stand under your own power as that's just going to make the trip to hospital really unpleasant. It also makes getting a lift on the back of a motorcycle, an extremely common form of transport throughout south east Asia, either difficult or impossible. Don't wait too long before you get a taxi, get someone to give you a lift or before you do whatever is necessary to get medical attention.

Above all, just remember that you WILL get better. It's just a matter of time so drink lots of fluids, watch some TV and you'll be back on your feet before you know it.

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