Although it’s pretty amusingly dramatic to say, “Ugh, I think I have the plague!” every time you come down with a head cold, the reality is that it is completely possible to contract very serious, sometimes fatal diseases in this day and age. That risk increases exponentially when you head out on some outdoor adventures like camping and hiking. Illnesses can be spread by a cough or direct contact, but a lot of critters out there in the wild are just as culpable! Follow these tips for avoiding plague-carrying critters and stay safe and disease-free this summer!
If you’re even a little bit of a hypochondriac, I’ll advise you that scouring the Internet to learn about diseases and their transmissions is not exactly a leisurely afternoon activity and I apologize in advance. However, if you’re all about the adventurous camping lifestyle, it’s smart to be prepared and take defense against diseases before they even get the chance to spread to you and your loved ones! Here are the ways that animals can spread diseases to humans.
When most people think of disease transmission, they think of insects. Pesky, biting pests are responsible for around 48 different notable diseases in humans, which can result in some horrific illnesses, and even death in some more extreme cases.
As with many unusual diseases and sicknesses, it’s so easy to think that contracting one will never possibly happen to you. But the fact is, these illnesses can find you under normal, everyday circumstances, and when you head out into the wilderness, the chances of getting bitten by an infected insect increase substantially. For instance, my best friend’s father battled with West Nile back when the mania was at its height, and another close friend’s mother was in a coma for over a month due to a severe H1N1 infection. Luckily they have both made full recoveries, but it’s a bit of a rude awakening when a disease that makes headlines shows up in your own neighborhood.
While realizing that my small hometown is apparently a hotspot for extreme diseases, it just goes to show that insects are everywhere, and diseases can manifest even when you think you have nothing to worry about. Mosquitoes and ticks are two of the biggest culprits and crop up in news stories year after year, getting blamed for the transmissions of new diseases or worsening the instances of existing ones. These diseases include, but are not limited to:
West Nile virus—infects the brain and spinal cord, and can result in death or lasting nerve damage
Zika—virus transmitted by mosquitoes, and is passed from human mother to fetus, resulting in oftentimes fatal birth defects or miscarriage
Lyme disease—causes muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, and even death when left untreated, contracted most commonly from tick bites
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever—bacterial infection from wood ticks that can cause organ damage and death
H1N1 (Swine Flu)—causes flu-like symptoms, and serious breathing problems
These are just a few of the slew of diseases that can be passed along by insects. Although we will discuss how other critters can be responsible for the transmission of diseases, it’s imperative to remember that insects, mosquitoes especially, are likely to also carry these diseases, and can transmit them to humans much more easily than the animals themselves.
Animal Bites and Scratches
If you ever find yourself face to face with a wild animal, the outcome can be a little unpredictable. Wild animals usually lack the friendliness and trust of humans than their domesticated counterparts, so the possibility of sustaining some injuries in the event of a wild animal encounter is much higher. Even if you only bring along your domestic pets on camping trips and avoid nature altogether, you still run the risk of contracting diseases from animal bites or scratches. They can come from a variety of animals, and include the following:
Rabies—Causes fatigue, confusion, fever, headache, and other symptoms; only zero to three cases of rabies in humans are reported in the U.S. each year, but it is fatal if left untreated. Can be found in almost any type of mammal.
Hantavirus—deadly virus carried by several species of mice, transmitted to humans when dust contaminated with feces is breathed in
Tularemia (rabbit fever)—highly contagious and can be very deadly; can be inhaled or ingested, or transmitted by an insect bite or direct contact with rabbits
Salmonella—amphibians and reptiles carry salmonella on their skin, and can cause severe gastrointestinal issues
Toxoplasmosis—parasite found mostly in felines, and causes flu-like symptoms in humans; can be fatal to those with weakened immune systems, and can cause permanent defects or death to fetuses
Plague—Yes, instances of plague still pop up! Different forms of plague affect the body differently, but can result in organ or extremity damage, systems damage, and ultimately death if untreated
Although approximately 71% of the planet is covered in water, nature prevents us humans from being able to mosey up to any water source and simply taking a drink. Contaminated water sources can host dozens of horrific diseases, taking a refreshing life necessity and turning it into a possible death sentence. Animals play a large role in this contamination, from leaving behind fecal matter, depositing infected saliva while drinking, or just leaving behind microorganisms. Here are some diseases found in contaminated water:
Giardia—a diarrheal disease that upon infection results in gas, stomach pain, loose stool, and dehydration
Legionella (Legionnaire’s Disease)—a pneumonia-like disease that affects the lungs, and can lead to lung failure and death
Norovirus—Highly infectious, causing inflammation of the stomach and/or intestines. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches, and possible dehydration.
E. coli—Naturally found in human and animal intestines, but more dangerous strains can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever. Can be life threatening in some severe cases.
How To Avoid Plague-Carrying Critters
ALWAYS wear bug spray. If you’re spending time outside, whether outside on your deck at home or hiking in the middle of the woods, apply insect repellent before and during your outing. This will help to prevent insects from even wanting to come near you, let alone bite you and transmit their diseases!
Wear long clothing. Sure, it’ll seem miserable if you’re out in hot weather, but if you invest in some lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing, you’ll be protecting your skin, giving insects less opportunity to bite, animals to scratch, or infectious substances from making direct contact.
Don’t drink from large water sources or standing water. Even if you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere without fresh water, you’ll be putting yourself at risk by drinking the water. Carry a LifeStraw or other personal water purifier in your hiking pack or with your camping gear, and always bring a water bottle or canteen so you're prepared.
Avoid contact with (wild) animals. Do not engage with wildlife, not only because you shouldn’t disturb them anyway, but to also avoid picking up an outlandish disease. Even if you find babies that you think are abandoned, even touching animals can land you with an illness. Stay away from known habitats and territories, and leave the area if a more threatening animal is present. Likewise, be wary of your domestic pets too. Never directly touch feces, do not let pets kiss you on the lips or face, and always wash your hands after petting.
If you are faced with one of these situations, or are experiencing any symptoms after being out in the wilderness, contact your doctor immediately or go to the nearest emergency room if symptoms are extreme.
Are you ready to put your best foot forward and stay free of the plague this summer? You can never be too careful, but if you follow these tips for avoiding plague-carrying critters, you’ll be much more likely to stay healthy and not become a freak CDC statistic! I hope I haven’t frightened you hypochondriacs too much, but just remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry, and certainly don’t let this deter you from enjoying the camping lifestyle and fun in the great outdoors!
Have you or anyone else contracted a disease while out exploring nature? Do you have any other tips for avoiding disease-carrying animals? Leave us a comment! If you’re looking for a new or used RV to help keep the bugs at bay and provide safe, clean water, check out our selection of RVs for sale in Saginaw at Hamilton’s RV! Shop now and save big with our everyday low prices and special financing options!