Sunday, September 14, 2014

Do you really have to worry about getting Ebola as a tourist in Africa?

Signed up for or thinking about taking a trip to Africa one of these days - and starting to wonder if maybe you are potentially putting your or your family's lives at risk because of the rampant Ebola outbreak in Western Africa?
In short, the answer is emphatically no.  You will not be acting recklessly or foolishly by traveling to Africa.  Ebola is affecting a significant number of people but - in context of the giant size of the continent of Africa  - it is restricted to a small and localized area in four African states:  Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. For the 1.1 billion people living in the other 43 countries on the African mainland and seven island states off the coast, life goes on as usual.
There are likely a hundred 'bad' things that can happen to you between now and the time you want to travel to Africa, or when you are there.  Ebola is not on the list.  It is tragic for the people involved but it is not a realistic threat to tourists traveling to Africa this year or next. 
Here is why:

Would-be travelers to various countries in Africa are understandably concerned about Ebola, as a result of a barrage of reporting about the issue, much of it playing up the ‘dread factor’ of the disease.  However if one looks at the facts of the matter dispassionately there is really little to no cause for alarm. For one thing there is the geography - a vast distance separating West and Eastern or Southern Africa - and also the nature of the virus/disease which makes it extremely unlikely to cause a situation which would affect travel to the rest of Africa

Right now, Ebola is not an issue at all in Southern or East Africa - there are no cases in either area and there has only been one known case of Ebola in South Africa ever.  Ebola is a fragile virus which does not travel well and it is not transmitted easily  - only with active contact with an infected person's bodily fluids.  An incubated person (not yet symptomatic) could fly all the way from Conakry in Guineau to Paris in an aircraft full of passengers and not infect a single one.  There is a documented case of such an event. The virus is not particularly hardy either and is easily eradicated with an application of a standard household antiseptic spray.

In the areas where it actively occurs - isolated parts of West Africa -  Ebola is a serious disease but the publicity and resulting fear of the unknown, is out of all proportion with actual risk to people in the rest of the African continent and beyond.  It’s horrible for those involved, of course, and tragic for medical workers but it isn’t the beginning of a global pandemic. The reason there is such a large but isolated outbreak in West Africa is due to lack of education, poor sanitation, and lack of effective medical care. None of those conditions are present in the tourism areas of Southern and East Africa, in major gateway cities like Johannesburg and Nairobi and in areas like the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, Kruger National Park, the Okavango Delta in Botswana and so on

Even if a few cases were to crop up in South Africa or Kenya, it will pose no direct risk for travelers to the area. Unless someone actually interacts with someone who is already showing visible symptoms of Ebola, there is no risk of infection.  In countries with effective medical care, adequate information about how the disease is spread and with good hygiene (all of which is the case for South Africa and East Africa) Ebola can and has been effectively managed and isolated. 
Here are links to a couple of articles which I think have some good information. 



The bottom line:  short of directly touching someone who is already showing symptoms of ebola, or who have died from it - which of course no tourist will ever do or even come close to - the risk of becoming infected is effectively zero. 
A good travel consultant will advise you to be concerned about malaria - because it kills 725,000 people in Africa every year.  Hence our recommendation to our clients to get a prescription for Malarone.  Other potential health issues include Hepatitis A, tetanus and polio.  Even yellow fever in some areas. 
So there are some health risks associated with traveling to Africa on safari, but Ebola is not one of them.  What we are in the midst of is a tragic yet very localized West African event.   Even if it does spread into a few other areas it is only a risk where the triumvirate of poor hygiene, lack of education about transmission and non-existent medical care are present.  Everywhere else the disease can and has been (in the past) isolated and controlled.  Which is why active Ebola patients can be flown into the USA with no risk to the rest of the population. 
I can see how media hype and mass hysteria about a 'dread disease' can create the impression that Ebola is a risk factor for Africa travel and I know that friends and family - who may not be very well informed about the reality of the issue - may question any Africa travel plans.

However if you look at the facts, getting infected with Ebola is the least likely of ANY potential poor outcome to an Africa trip.  It is just not realistic - by any stretch of the imagination - that tourists are going to be exposed to the virus.  The disease is almost exclusively affecting close family members or co-inhabitants of active sufferers - and medical workers.  Nobody else.
Plus:  all major tourism countries in East and Southern Africa (including South Africa, Botswana and Kenya) have stopped any flights from countries where Ebola is present and they have instituted very rigorous border control measures to prevent infected persons from entering. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Better late than never on New Year's resolutions

For a person who does not take medication of any kind, a recent issue with swallowing was a sobering reminder that nobody is immune to health issues.  Turns out – after an upper GI tract endoscopy – that I am suffering from esophagitis.  It came as a surprise as I have never had issues with heartburn, at all.  The prognosis for healing is good though – my list of prescription medications is now up to one: Nexium.  ‘Come back and see me in 6 month’s time’, were the specialist’s parting words.  We shall see how that turns out. Might have to lay off the gin martinis. 

In the interim, I am determined to lose some weight – which I think is a contributing factor to the upper GI issues.  Being able to run again is a boon, as a lack of consistent exercise is what caused me to gain the extra 20 pounds in the first instance. Well that and eating some candy, occasional junk food, having a few beers & wines etc...  :-)

Making a running comeback at 60+ is no fun.  I just logged 20+ miles in a week for the first time in nearly two years.   Which is great except that every meter is a fight against gravity and inertia.  Oh for the days when I could roll out of bed and knock off 10 ‘easy’ miles before breakfast…  Or way, way back when my friend Sam Ras and  I  started running by racing a 3-mile course every morning for nearly a month, day after day, without a break. Through shin splints, tendonitis, painful quads & hamstrings – we couldn’t care less, we just wanted to run fast.   Right now someone could beat me with a stick and I still couldn’t run fast enough to develop shin splints. 

Signed up for another DietBet starting on Feb 9 and also for the 'Power in Motion' running program (10 weeks with Houston Area Road Runners Association) starting on Feb.  Have to get and stay motivated!!


Our newest addition to the family:  Bi Bi - the brindle with Lewis, our surviving older Boxer.  His half brother Lewis recently died, RIP sweet dog.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A new cookbook and new running shoes

One of the things Santa brought me for X-Mas was a new cookbook, in fact several of them.  Vegan with a Vengeance by  Isa Chandra Moskowitz has been around for a while; probably still one of the best-selling vegan cookbooks around.  The first recipe I tried was the scrambled tofu.  Pretty mundane but always welcome for breakfast/brunch, with some nice toast, salsa on the side and a cup of coffee. 

Scrambled Tofu from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

And on the running front:

Trying out new running shoes:  Hoka One One.  One hundred percent the opposite of minimalist running shoes, the Hokas have a nearly 2-inch thick sole (even more at the heel) and they absorb a huge amount of the foot-strike impact.  So far so good, have been running and walking with them for a week (about 20 miles or so) and my really really bad case of plantar fasciitis has thus far not reared its head.  Longest run this week was 5.2 miles - haven't gotten close to a 5-mile run in months!  Holding thumbs that the pain will stay away even when/if I start to pick up the mileage.

Super-thick heels on the Hoka One One running shoes


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Should you travel to Africa?

Following on the tragedy that took place in Nairobi last weekend, we have had quite a few questions from travelers about the wisdom of traveling to East Africa or Africa for that matter.  Here is more or less what we tell them:

In almost 15 years, there have been just two notable terrorist attacks in East Africa, namely the Kenya/Tanzania embassy bombings of 1999 and now the Westgate attack in Nairobi.  So compared with practically every other part of the world include the USA, there is no reason to consider East Africa a less safe destination now than in the recent past.  Visitors' exposure to populated areas - where attacks ordinarily take place - is almost nil, perhaps a quick overnight in Nairobi and that is that.  In the game reserves and other remote places where visitors spend 90% of their time, the risk to life and limb is practically zero due to the absence of public roads & population. 

One can never predict the insanity of angry or marginalized groups, but on the whole East Africa has proven to be a very safe area to travel.  We really don't see that changing.  Due to the fact that it does not share a border with Somalia, Tanzania is probably an even better choice than Kenya but I am very comfortable recommending travel to either country.  As well as to Uganda, Rwanda and Zanzibar (which is of course part of Tanzania).

Here is an e-mail which we sent to several of our clients who will be traveling to Kenya over the next few months.  We did not have any cancellations, one party just opted to change from Kenya to Tanzania.


What occurred in Nairobi over the weekend is a tragedy and our condolences go out to the survivors and the families and friends of the victims.  The sad thing about this kind of senseless attack is that it never advances the cause of the perpetrators. It only serves to further inflame the situation and exacerbate existing conflicts. 

That being said, we just wanted to touch base with you because we know that these kinds of events attract a lot of publicity.  Well-meaning individuals, friends & family may in fact question your wisdom in traveling to Africa.  If so please feel free to share some of my thoughts with them.  If you have traveled to Africa before you will know that on safari you are very safe, and with people who know their way around the area, with years of experience.

It is our sincere belief that by traveling to Kenya you will not be unnecessarily exposing yourself to risk.  Unfortunately random attacks - whether inspired by mentally insane persons, political fanatics or terrorists - are a worldwide phenomenon and none of us are 100% safe - anywhere. 

As we all know they can and do happen anywhere:  Lower Manhattan, the Boston Marathon, London underground, a movie theater in Colorado, Spain, Oklahoma City.  The list goes on and on. The world is not a safe place and there is nowhere to hide.  A localized attack in one of these places does not reflect on the safety situation elsewhere in a country or continent or region.  So it does not follow that an attack on a mall in Nairobi makes all of Kenya or by extension East Africa or the entire continent of Africa, a risky place to travel.

It may sound banal but the greatest risk to life and limb is right at home and on the road.  The two places where people are most likely to be injured or killed are in their own homes or while driving on a public road.  We tend to lose sight of that when confronted with dramatic images of aircraft crashes, buildings imploding, bomb victims running in terror and so on.  As a percentage of the total population of the USA, the number of people who are injured or killed in a terror incident is exceedingly small.  Yes it is devastating for them and their families, but the publicity devoted to incidents of this kind drowns out the fact that they are very rare. The vast majority of us are much more likely to fall off a ladder, burn ourselves accidentally, slip in the bathroom or be hit by a careless or reckless driver.  Or fall victim to some kind of disease or chronic health issue. 

The point?  You will not be putting yourself in harm's way by going on safari in Africa.  The specific areas you will be visiting are no more dangerous than much of  the USA - or practically anywhere else. Putting one's life on hold and canceling plans to do things and go places is not a solution.  It boils down to exchanging one set of risks for another, while robbing yourself of the joy of living and experiencing new things, new experiences and new places.

Our destination management company in Kenya - Origins Safaris - have a spotless safety record and they will take every precaution necessary to keep you safe and away from any area that may be considered vulnerable or dangerous.   

Of course once you are on safari out in the bush or on the coast you could not be in a more peaceful and relaxed setting, with almost no personal safety issues due to the absence of cities and and heavily populated areas. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My old Acura

What do you do with a 17-year old car that you are completely upside down on, as in you've spent much more on it than it is worth?  Easy answer - you keep throwing more money down the same rathole. And keep hanging on to the thing for sentimental reasons. 

Yesterday my old 1996 AcuraTL 2.5 - one of the increasingly rare 5-cylinder versions - threw a bit of a vehicular fit when the alarm rather alarmingly went off for no apparent reason when my son tried to start it.  With no way to stop the alarm - the only remaining key does not have a mechanism for that - he had to disconnect the battery.

Well it turned out that an old problem - bad battery cables - had reared its head again.  I had asked our automobile repair shop (we've used them for 15 years+) to fix the problem about 2 years ago but they  ignored me.  Not this time.  The new cables have been ordered and will be installed today.

What is next?  Can't be the air conditioning, radiator or alternator, those have all been fixed.  As was the - ultra expensive - oil leak.  Every time I pick it up from the Hondacar Center it is $500+, never less...  And sometimes much more.  I console myself with the thought that the car is paid for.  Most of the time.

Diet Notes:

Getting back  on a more strict 'No S' regimen is showing results very quickly.  Just since last Sunday, my weight has dropped by nearly 3 pounds.  I think running again - albeit just 3 times per week for about half an hour per outing - is also starting to make a difference.

I will make it a mini-goal to be down to 180 lbs by next Tuesday for the weekly boot camp at Terry Hershey Park with Miriam Terc. 

July 10 2013:

Weight: 183.8
Bodyfat percentage: 22
Miles run:  0
Strength + conditioning: 50 minutes @ LA Fitness with Amy
Mountain bike:  8 miles (40 minutes)
July 9:  'No S' GREEN day

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Supermarket blues

Once again my local Randalls (owned by Safeway) did not have an express check-out lane open at 5:30P yesterday, with the store crowded with dinner shoppers.  When asked, a manager said: "Most people have more items (than you), so we don't keep the express lane open."  Really?  He denied that Randalls is trying to force more people to use the self checkout lane, which I positively detest.

Forget about it Randalls, I won't darken your door again.  We do have a choice you know.

Whole Foods is one of them, but the closest WF is almost 5 miles from our home - and not easy to get to, on the other side of Beltway 8.  We have a new Fresh Market opening in late July, barely 500 meters from our driveway down Memorial Drive, that might be the ticket.  As long as they stock extra-firm tofu...  If not, I will just have to drive the 3 miles or so to Trader Joe's on Voss Rd.  Where they are smart enough to make checking out a pleasant experience, unlike the service-challenged managers at Randalls.

I am getting a little burned out on steelcut oats.  Latest favorite breakfast cereal is Kashi GoLean with a whopping 10g of fiber (42% of RDA) in a 1-cup serving.  It contains a little honey - oops!  Sorry to the bees responsible but I am going to have to overlook that.  I like the crunchiness of the cereal with its 'fiber twigs' and 'soy protein graham's.  As much protein as an egg, to boot!

One more grocery note:  I spent more than $6 on a tiny 4.4 oz bottle of Marmite yesterday.  South African would cringe at the price, and I do too, even after more than 20 years here.  I guess I just can't do without the stuff!  And it is loaded with Vitamin B-12, a sorely needed supplement for us vegans. 

July 9 2013:

Weight: 184.6
Bodyfat percentage: 22
Miles run:  2
Strength + conditioning: 1 hr
Mountain bike:  0
July 8:  'No S' GREEN day

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gym doubts

I'm not sure if I need to continue my LA Fitness Gym membership ($33 per month) which costs me an additional $100 per week for 2 X 1-hr sessions with the Personal Trainer.  Nice as she is - and knowledgeable - it is difficult to justify such an expense as I am perfectly capable of designing my own workout sessions - using the home gym.  I will think about this for the next few weeks and decide by the end of the summer.

A few things things which I dont like about LA Fitness:

  • No antiseptic wipes for the machines, god knows what kind of bacteria or other bad germs I might be picking up...  Last Friday they completely ran out of paper towels.
  • People lounging (resting) on the machines between sets.  WTH?  I even asked one guy the other day (while he was resting on a machine in-between sets) if he was using the machines.  He just nodded yes and continued to rest... 
  • Horrible music.  Is it really necessary to listen to Britney Spears and similar 'no talent' people almost all the time? 

What I do like?

  • The hours - they are open early and late.
  • The multitude of machines: you can try a new one every 4 or 5 days and won't run out.
  • The place is brand new so everything works, most of the time. 
  • Nice lockers and bathroom facilities
  • A large pool that is almost always available: now I just need to get Kathy to teach me some proper swimming strokes. 

Here is my planned 'Monday' circuit at LA Fitness:

Bench press
Military press

Shoulder pull-up
Pec deck

Glute kickback
Shoulder press

This guy's double is at my gym. Makes me feel a little better about my own 185+...

July 8 2013:
Weight: 184.8
Bodyfat percentage: 22
Miles run:  0
Strength + conditioning: 0
Mountain bike:  0
July 7:  No S GREEN day