Pollution, Water and Disease in Saigon: What You Should Know
We are all in danger of the negative effects of air pollution, water contamination, unclean food, worms and tropical diseases in HCMC. I sat down with Dr. Nicolas Lagüe from Centre Medical International to learn how we can manage to avoid these health problems.
It’s no secret that there are substantial pollution problems in Vietnam. However, just how dangerous the air is, and exactly what effects it has on our health can be difficult to decipher. The main parts of the body that are affected by air pollution are the nose, throat, ears and lungs. Whether you are on a motorbike, in your car, walking or in your apartment, exposure to air pollution in HCMC is nearly unavoidable, and we need to make a personal choice if living here is worth the risk, especially considering how difficult it is to evaluate the related dangers.
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The air contains toxic particles and nanoparticles, which can come from a variety of sources. One interesting fact I learned from Dr. Lagüe was that the non-exhaust particles, like the iron, copper and barium that are released during the breaking of a car or motorbike, produce significant nanoparticles. This fact, combined with the high concentration of exhaust emissions, make stopping at red lights a prime hotspot for heavy toxic air. According to the expert himself, the best way to protect yourself, outside of not living in the city, is to wear a proper mask. For this, you will need to spend the money and get a thick carbon cloth mask (FFP3 class) which will help filter out the bigger pollutants in the air.
Although driving a car exposes you to slightly less toxicity than when you are on a motorbike, it is still not enough to make a significant difference. In regards to your home, location is key. The further from the busy areas the less pollution there is, and the higher up your apartment the better. Therefore, if air quality is a major concern for you, try to find a flat on the highest floor possible. The closer to the ground your apartment is, the more exposure it receives.
Drinking Water Contamination
Everyone knows the first rule of thumb when living in most developing countries - don’t ever drink the tap water! It contains dangerous levels of nitrates and iron, not to mention a variety of other unsafe chemicals. The best way to ensure you are taking in the cleanest drinking water is to stick to mineral water. Alba is the name of one local company that is producing high quality bottled mineral water that contains an impressive amount of bicarbonates.
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Bicarbonates are great for balancing the body’s gastric acidity levels and are also highly effective in preventing dental cavities. Not only is mineral water a sound alternative to many of the questionable drinking water sources available, but its health benefits are scientifically backed and heavily researched throughout the world. Another suggestion is to constantly switch the brands of mineral water that you drink due to the fact that each brand is comprised of different levels of electrolytes. A regular rotation like this is good for the body, and helps you maintain a healthy level of energy.
Food, Worms and Bacteria
Statistically, Vietnam does have a lower quality of food than most countries, which can result in an array of digestive problems, amongst other health related issues like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However, the main concern lies in regards to bacteria and worms, and these are real threats that every resident needs to be taking precautions against. Let’s make it known that there are numerous varieties of worms and parasites out there and they are very easy to acquire. You might have worms and not even show any symptoms. Dr. Lagüe highly recommends that everyone living here take Zentel every six months. This is readily found at pharmacies all over town and is highly effective in expelling any worms that you may have. Worms and other parasites can lead to other more complicated issues if left untreated, like schistosomiasis, a condition that can cause diarrhoea, abdominal pain, a bloody stool or much worse.
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In regards to food, the number one cautionary measure to take is with vegetables, as they can very easily harvest bacteria. Just by touching the outer skin of contaminated vegetables, larvae can be transferred into your body. It is suggested that any vegetables you buy need to be thoroughly washed while wearing gloves. Meat is another cause of concern, but also a debatable topic. Keep in mind that everyone’s body is different, and each individual can have different levels of immunity to different bacteria. Although it’s an undisputed fact that unrefrigerated meat increases the chances of bacterial contamination, doctors often disagree on how dangerous it is to consume it. Consumers should do their best to buy quality meat that is within their budget. Annam Gourmet is one trusted shop that sells quality meat that has been properly stored, and it’s a notable place to buy safer products. I’ve interviewed doctors that passionately advised against eating any street food under any circumstance, while others have said it’s perfectly fine to indulge once in awhile. Either way, it’s best to know your body and act accordingly.
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Tropical Diseases in Vietnam
The best way to avoid many tropical diseases is to get vaccinated before you come to Vietnam. As many of the symptoms crisscross each other, it is often very difficult to identify what exactly you might have. Vietnam also has limited medical technology, which can make diagnostic processes more difficult. If you feel any strange symptoms like fatigue or joint pain as a result of a suspected insect bite, seek a medical expert immediately to get some blood work. Hydration and proper rest are crucial during this time.
Some of the most prevalent tropical diseases in Vietnam are Dengue Fever and Zika Virus. The danger with these viruses is that their symptoms vary and there is not much technology available in Vietnam to give proper blood tests. Do your best to wear mosquito repellent, especially outside of the city limits, where the number of mosquitos increases. There are several types of mosquitos which can carry dangerous tropical diseases, and many cannot withstand the pollution of the city. However, once you leave the city limits, and the pollution levels are lower, there is a substantially higher risk of exposure. As a whole, it’s next to impossible to control if you are bitten by a mosquito or not. The best thing you can do is to be aware of the symptoms of Dengue and Zika, and if you experience them do not procrastinate seeking treatment.