While we lived together, a good friend of mine who hails from West Africa taught me to think beyond geopolitical borders. Among countless stories, she sometimes mentioned exotic illnesses that were common in other parts of the world. One is malaria — that infamous mosquito-transmitted parasite that causes severe flulike symptoms most notably characterized by a sudden fever that comes and goes every couple of days. Those who are treated for the sometime-fatal illness may experience recurrences because the pathogen sometimes is not treated effectively or fully and can come back years after the initial infection. My friend had had malaria several times. “It’s the best way to lose weight,” she joked. She told me about other parasites, including guinea worms, which enter the body through water and exit, rear end first, by forming blisters and then breaking through the lower extremities.
I couldn’t believe that parasites are still common anywhere in the modern world — parasites! Learning this made me glad to be American — we know that our pets can get heartworm, but the United States has proper sanitation and we are too hygienic to worry about such things, right? Such bravado often yields difficult lessons.