Common ailments in Cambodia

It’s surprisingly easy to stay healthy in Cambodia (if you choose to), but there are always things to watch out for. Rare are the expats who make it through their first few months in-country without at least one round of food poisoning or serious case of diarrhea. Instead of fearing it, embrace it–it’s a great weight-loss technique! Seriously, it’s nearly unavoidable, even for those who spend their time here avoiding local food and fussing about whether or not they can have a beverage with ice in it. Instead of limiting your experience in Cambodia, accept the inevitable. It won’t last long. And luckily, there’s no shortage of Pepto-Bismol and Imodium in the country.

One of the things to be most aware of in Cambodia is mosquitos. Dengue fever has been on the rise, especially during and just after the wet season, even in the cities, and there are no vaccinations to prevent it. Malaria is also present (mostly in rural locales and near forested areas), but most expats make the decision that being on anti-malarial drugs for extended periods of time is not worth it. This means that preventing mosquito bites is key. Wear long-sleeved shirts if possible, use a DEET-containing mosquito repellent, and sleep with closed windows or a mosquito net.

Another affliction long-term expats often encounter is invasion by various types of intestinal worms. Although you’ll probably know it if you have them (tell-tale signs are an itchy butt or actually seeing the worms), some recommend taking anti-worm medication every six months just to be safe. The medication is called mebendazole. It can be found at any pharmacy in Cambodia and costs around 2,000 riel.

Prickly heat or heat rash is another common complaint. Although not serious, heat rash can be annoying; the itchy red rash on the body causes a pins-and-needles sensation. It’s common in hot, humid environments and occurs when sweat is trapped beneath the skin. The easiest way to avoid heat rash is to shower often and avoid sweating too much, especially in fabrics that don’t breathe. Particularly when you first arrive, don’t be afraid to turn on the air-conditioning! Prickly heat powder is available in all pharmacies and can help relieve symptoms.

Sexually transmitted infections are also common in Cambodia’s expat population, particularly among those who favor the services of sex workers. It’s important to always use a condom. Local brands OK and Number 1 are released by PSI, an NGO, and meet international standards. Durex is also available at U-Care pharmacy.

Almost all of the above ailments are contracted through carelessness, so be alert to the risks and take care of your health while you’re in Cambodia.

This is an excerpt from Move to Cambodia: A guide to living and working in the Kingdom of Wonder. To learn more about 100+ topics that pertain to Cambodia expats, please consider buying the book.