Melioidosis, a tropical disease

Posted on Posted in Travels 2013-2014

Yes, I caught a tropical disease while I was in Asia.

I arrived in Bangkok on my own this time, as my sister went on to Koh Phangan to do her yoga thing. I was set on staying there until my ankle got better. It was swollen and bruised, had been for a few weeks, since a boat hit me in the water while I was snorkeling. So I was planning to lie in bed with my foot up in the air until for a few days.

That’s when I met a Brazilian guy who was on his way back home from his one year stay in New Zealand. He just stopped by in Thailand for a couple of weeks. We took a room together in Merry V hostel on Soy Rambuttri, a street just opposite Khao San road but much quieter. He said he would make me company in the room while I was busy recovering, which I was really happy about.

My foot was slowly getting better (or so I thought) after countless compresses with turmeric powder. We ventured out into the city on short walks and bus rides and we eventually decided to move on to the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai. We went around all the temples, my travel boyfriend did a cooking course (I did not) and we did all the touristy things people do in Chiang Mai. The plan was to spend a week there together, after which my ‘boyfriend’ would go on his way to Brazil and I would go to Doi Sutep for a meditation retreat.

One night out of the blue I had a really high temperature, but the next day I was ok so we thought nothing of it. Maybe just too much sun. The next night, which was actually our last one together I got a temperature again. I didn’t know how high as we didn’t have a thermometer but I felt pretty sick. The ‘boyfriend’ had to leave at night to catch his bus to Bangkok. We said our tearful goodbyes, me shivering with fever, he worried about leaving me like that.

The next day I did not feel better like the day before, the fever just went on stronger and stronger. Plus now I was vomiting up everything I ate or drank. But at least I had an explanation – must be food poisoning! That’s cool, I would just suffer through it and I’d be better in a couple of days.

So I set up to lie in the hammock all day close to the hostel’s toilets (yep – public ones). I lied in there for 2-3 days, I lost count, everything muddled up. Someone brought me water and bananas which just came back up anyway. When I got too weak to lift my had up, I started to think that this might be a tiny bit more serious than just silly food poisoning. I called my mum not knowing what to do, and she told me crawl to the closest tuk-tuk I find and go to the hospital. I somehow managed to achieve that, not taking anything with me, just my phone. When I arrived at the hospital and explained the situation, they admitted me straight away, taking me to a room in a wheelchair. At that moment I was so thankful to God (Allah/Buddha/whoever you prefer) for having travel insurance with InsureAndGo! Without them I don’t know what would have happened. The doctors put me in a private room, they started examining me and put me on IV. I called my sister and told her what happened, and she decided to stop her yoga course on Koh Phangan and came to be with me. Her being there made me feel so much better. I only talked to my travel boyfriend once, he was happy to be back home in Brazil and wasn’t too interested in my problems. I was still throwing up everything I ate or drank, and I was getting too weak to get to the bathroom. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. The kept asking us about the places we visited to see what tropical disease I could have caught. Then after about 4 days they said it was Leptospirosis, a disease you can catch from rat urine, it’s possible to get it anywhere in the world, not just in Asia. After a few days of treatment when I still wasn’t getting better, a group of doctors with grave expressions on their faces came into my room and told me I had Melioidosis, a much more serious tropical disease than Leptospirosis. Suddenly everyone started wearing face covers near me.  They transferred me and my sister to another hospital with experts on tropical diseases in an ambulance, even the driver wearing a face cover.

The new hospital was much nicer, even my sister was allowed to stay there with me and sleep on the sofa bed. We had a fridge, a microwave, private bathroom, flat screen TV, and I chose my own meals 3 times a day. The medication they gave me started working and I was finally feeling better. After a week of antibiotic treatment I was told I could go out of the hospital for a few hours a day, as long as I came back in time to get my IV treatment. I was so happy too finally be allowed to go out, even if it was with a needle sticking out of my arm!

We went out sightseeing to the town. We got chatting with other travelers who asked us where we were staying and they looked at us really weird when we told them: ‘At the hospital!’

After 2 weeks of IV antibiotic treatment I was released from the hospital. The final bill came to £5,500 so again I was really happy I didn’t have to pay that! I had to continue taking oral antibiotics for 6 months in total and when we got back to England the story continued, as their version of the treatment for this disease was longer than what I received in Thailand and they kept me in a hospital for another 4 days!

Of course I read up on Melioidosis a little, and was I found was scary…the mortality rate is 90% without getting the right antibiotics! The bacteria is found in the soil and the risk of getting infected increases when there are floods. The disease attacks different organs in the body until it consumes the infected person, unless they get the right treatment. The highest occurrence of this disease is in Northern Thailand and about 50% of the people who get it die from it. A vaccine is in the process of being developed.



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