''Survivor'''s doctor on the creepiest health risks -- The reality show's medical expert, Dr. Adrian Cohen, says it's the guys, not the girls, who face the grisliest threat in the Amazon

By Liane Bonin
March 06, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Dr. Adrian Cohen: David M. Russell
  • TV Show

Tarantulas and malaria-carrying skeeters may be giving the Jaburu and Tambaqui tribes the hardcore heebie jeebies, but they’re business as usual for Dr. Adrian Cohen, ”Survivor: The Amazon”’s doctor in residence. Cohen, who recently published the how-to book ”Survivor First Aid,” says this season’s location is full of dangers — and it’s the men, not the women, who’d better be keeping their legs crossed. EW.com talked to Cohen about the ins and outs of malaria, why Jenna’s cleanliness fetish isn’t really so weird, and why no Survivor will ever, ever get a Band-Aid.

There seems to be no end to the creepy critters this time around. Which are the most dangerous?
The biggest threat is from snake bites. There are a lot of them there, like the Bushmaster. We make it our practice to have antivenom on location and at the local city intensive care units. Also, the anacondas aren’t quite as animated as in the film [1997’s ”Anaconda”], which was shot in the same area, but they are to be feared nonetheless. Fleas, ticks, and flies are always a problem, particularly the mosquito, which carries malaria, Dengue fever, and yellow fever. And scorpions, centipedes, bees, and wasps are always wherever we put our contestants. All I can say is, check your shoes and your bed!

What about whatever’s floating in that murky water?
Piranhas have gotten an inflated rap over the years, but they do eat meat, ANY meat. The biggest fear factor was probably from the tiny Amazonian catfish, which locals call Candiru. It’s typically small enough to swim up the male urethra and lodge in the bladder. Because of its small, scaly barbs, which are just like a fish hook, the journey is strictly one way.

You are the final say as to whether or not a site is ”Survivor”-ready. What’s on your checklist?
It’s a long list, and getting longer! Besides tropical diseases and weather hazards, I look at the conditions the tribes and crew will be living in, then survey all the local helicopter, boat, road, and air ambulance options, including international repatriation all the way back to home.

It seems like the men and women had completely different priorities when it came to boiling water, setting up camp, and finding food. What advice do you give the tribes prior to landing, if any?
I can’t comment on the show while it’s happening, but in general the priorities for survival are shelter, food and water. We leave it up to individuals to work out the correct order, and where the emphasis is. Some seasons, the tribe has a beautiful shelter and not enough food; in others, water is the priority and shelter looks rudimentary. We try to encourage our contestants to do the research themselves, because they are not hand-fed a how-to guide.

Did Christy’s deafness present any specific challenges regarding her safety or health?
In general, there were a few more issues than with other contestants. But Christy has spent her life coping with challenges, so six weeks was no burden for us.

Daniel was diagnosed with malaria after returning to the U.S. Is the disease as life-altering as it used to be?
Malaria affects millions of people each year, but long-term problems for people in Western societies are not common. It’s contracted from mosquitoes, and cannot be passed from one human to another. Modern drugs are very effective, provided they are taken appropriately before and after exposure.

Except for Michael Skupin’s burns on ”Survivor: Outback,” we haven’t seen many medical crises on the show. But what about behind the scenes?
Over six seasons we have chronicled over 5,000 treatments for staff and crew, mostly minor, some more serious — but I can’t reveal any specifics.

Honestly, can’t you just give contestants a Band-Aid once in a while?
No Band-Aids! They are encouraged to look after themselves.