Overview page on tropical diseases

What is a tropical disease?

Tropical disease is an infection-borne disease that occurs in tropical areas. These include Central and South America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the northern section of Australia. The tropical diseases are often transmitted by pathogens that enter the body, for example through a mosquito bite.

Typical symptoms of many tropical diseases are fever, diarrhea, and various types of skin rashes. It is therefore always advisable to find out about possible tropical diseases and vaccinations against them before traveling to a tropical area.

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These tropical diseases exist

The most common tropical diseases include:

  • malaria

  • cholera

  • tuberculosis

  • Dengue fever

  • Leishmaniasis

  • Yellow fever

  • Elephantiasis

  • Amoebic dysentery


Malaria is a tropical disease, the pathogen of which is transmitted via the so-called Anopheles mosquito. The range of symptoms of malaria is very wide. You may experience nausea, vomiting, changes in consciousness, and jaundice. In addition, changes in the blood typical of malaria occur, anemia and an increased accumulation of pathogens in the blood, which is helpful for the diagnosis.

Treatment includes various medications, such as chloroquine. Some of these can also be taken in advance as prophylaxis. The most effective protection against malaria consists in repelling the Anopheles mosquitoes.

Yellow fever

The virus that causes the tropical disease yellow fever is transmitted via the yellow fever mosquito. A fever with chills, headache, muscle pain and nausea suddenly appear 3-6 days after infection. After about 3-4 days the symptoms go away for 1-2 days. Then the symptoms are very severe, including a high fever with bleeding from the skin and mucous membranes.

In addition, there is often bloody vomiting and blood in the stool. The liver is also affected in this phase and in addition to jaundice, acute liver failure can also occur. There is no treatment for yellow fever, but there is a vaccination.


In recent years, Ebola has become more and more popular in the media. Not all facts have yet been proven. The Ebola virus is thought to be transmitted to humans via fruit bats and monkeys. It takes between 2 and 21 days for symptoms to appear.

Initially, there is usually a sudden onset of high fever, muscle pain and headache, as well as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In the later course there is bleeding, circulatory collapse and an attack on the kidneys. The disease is often fatal. So far, possible therapies and vaccinations are still being tested.

Amoebic dysentery

Amoebic dysentery, also known as amebiasis, is transmitted by pathogens that enter the body through contaminated drinking water. There are no symptoms in about 90% of the transmission cases. If the disease does break out, it can manifest itself in two ways.

There is either an infestation of the intestine with typical raspberry jelly-like stool and pain when passing stool, or the formation of abscesses (a collection of pus), which mainly occur in the liver. Therapy consists of the administration of two drugs, metronidazole and paromomycin. There is no vaccination.


Typhus is a tropical disease that occurs mainly in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. It is transmitted by a certain type of salmonella and symptoms appear after about 1-3 weeks.

These include an initially slow rise in body temperature and constipation. Later, there are fluctuations in fever, abdominal pain, pea-like bowel movements, tongue coloring (Typhoid tongue) and rashes on the skin of the abdomen. Antibiotics are used for treatment.

When traveling to a risk area, vaccination against typhus is recommended.


The elephantiasis, also called Elephant Man Syndrome is a tropical disease that can be transmitted by various pathogens. This includes roundworms, but also the bacteria that can transmit leprosy. The clinical picture describes excessive swelling of one part of the body, usually the legs or external genitals.

The reason for this is an accumulation of the lymph. It often occurs in the late stages of other diseases. There is no drug treatment for the disease, however, depending on the severity of the swelling, lymphatic drainage or surgical removal are available.


The pathogens of leishmaniasis are transmitted via the so-called sand fly and, depending on the pathogen sub-form, lead to various symptoms. The sub-form, which affects the skin, results in bumps all over the body that heal within a year to form a scar.

The so-called visceral sub-form leads to an infestation of the internal organs and is usually fatal if left untreated. The third sub-form affects the mucous membranes, which mainly affects the throat and windpipe. The treatment is carried out depending on the subform with different drugs, such as Antimony or paromomycin.

There is no vaccination against leishmaniasis.


The tropical disease leprosy, which has been known for centuries, is transmitted by a specific type of bacteria. The bacteria are transmitted from person to person through fluids, for example from wounds. The disease mainly affects the skin and there are different degrees of skin wounds, discoloration and lump formation. In addition, the nerves fail to perceive the injuries.

If it is severe, injuries often lead to mutilation of the limbs. But other organs such as the liver or bones can also be affected. The therapy includes the drugs dapsone, rifampicin and possibly clofazimin.

Sleeping sickness

Sleeping sickness, also called African trypanosomiasis , occurs, as the name suggests, mainly in Africa. The pathogens are transmitted via the so-called tsetse fly and, depending on the region, lead to a West and an East African course.

In both cases, the symptoms initially include skin changes and swelling of the lymph nodes. Later, the meninges become inflamed, meningoencephalitis, which leads to the sleep disorders typical of the disease. These can lead to a coma.

An early therapy with medication is very important, otherwise the disease is fatal.

Chagas disease

The Chagas Disease, also called the American trypanosomiasis is called, occurs according to the name mainly in Central and South America. The pathogens are mainly transmitted to humans through bedbugs and only cause symptoms in around a quarter of all infected people.

In the beginning, this includes skin changes with swelling, fever and diarrhea. Later, in addition to the infestation of the gastrointestinal tract, there is above all a pronounced disease of the heart with cardiac arrhythmias and heart failure.

Since drug therapy for Chagas disease has only limited effectiveness, it is very important to protect yourself from the transmission of the pathogen.

Dengue fever

Dengue fever, also known as bone breaker fever, is caused by the dengue virus, which is transmitted by a certain type of mosquito and occurs mainly in the tropics of Asia. The symptoms can be divided into three phases. First there is a fever and pain in the limbs and muscles. Later, after a brief drop in fever, the body temperature rises again and skin rashes occur.

The symptoms usually subside afterwards and the third phase rarely occurs, in which bleeding and blood changes occur. Therapy is symptom-oriented and there is no vaccination.

River blindness

The river blindness is also called Onchocerciasis denotes and occurs mainly in Africa and America. It is transmitted by roundworms and leads to increased infectious build-up in the area of ​​the eyes. This leads to visual disturbances up to complete blindness in approx. 10% of all infected people.

But other symptoms, such as skin changes and itching, can also occur. The treatment is carried out with the help of the drugs ivermectin and suramin, thanks to which this tropical disease can be completely cured.


Tuberculosis is transmitted by tubercle bacteria. These are particularly resistant, which is why the disease is difficult to combat, especially in developing countries. The symptoms initially include a slight fever, night sweats, weight loss and an involvement of the lungs with cough and sputum.

Infected people whose immune system is weakened can later attack other organs, such as bone or skin tuberculosis. There are several ways to detect tuberculosis. Drug treatment includes rifampicin, isoniazid, ethambutol, and pyrazinamide, which must be taken for several months.

Due to the insufficient effectiveness of the so-called BCG vaccination against tuberculosis, it is no longer generally recommended.