Photo of fruits and vegetable in an open-air market 

The patient, a middle-aged woman who had returned from a trip to Costa Rica, became so sick that at one point she was near death. Her condition began to improve once doctors at the UC Davis Health System Traveler's Clinic found the culprit: histoplasmosis, a fungal infection.

Growing in soil contaminated with bat and bird droppings, the usually benign organism can be life-threatening for those with weakened immune systems. That was the case for the American tourist, an organ transplant recipient who was on medications to suppress her body's immune defenses.

The woman made a full recovery, according to the clinic's director, Stuart H. Cohen, and remains the most unusual patient the Traveler's Clinic has seen.

The vast majority of the clinic's patients are perfectly healthy. That's because they schedule a visit before they travel, like UC Davis staffer Michelle Silva did before a trip to Morocco and Turkey.

"My husband became ill from eating seafood when we were in Portugal the year before,'' Silva said. "I didn't want to risk that again, and didn't want to contract something far worse. In addition to suggesting hepatitis vaccinations, Dr. Cohen offered common sense tips about eating and drinking smart while abroad. Thankfully, we had no health problems on this trip."

The Traveler's Clinic provides anti-malarial medications; vaccinations for a variety of tropical diseases including yellow fever; and advice about how to minimize the chances of getting sick.

"Basically, you don't want to drink the water, put ice in your drink or eat fresh fruits and vegetables unless they've been peeled in countries with poor sanitation systems," Cohen recommends.

For more information about the Traveler's Clinic or to make an appointment, call (916) 734-2737.