That high-pitched buzz. That little pinch you feel when you realize too late you’ve been bitten. That incessant itch. Nobody likes a mosquito – at least nobody I know – and a malaria carrying mosquito? I think it’s safe to say those are the worst. While most malaria cases are found in sub-Saharan Africa, your visit to Southeast Asia, Central or South America, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, other parts of Africa or even some islands in the South Pacific still put you at risk.
So what is it?
The word malaria comes from 18th century Italian mala meaning “bad” and aria meaning “air”. Most likely, the term was first used by Dr. Francisco Torti, Italy, when people thought the disease was caused by foul air in marshy areas. – Medical News Today
First the bad news: Malaria is a parasitic infection spread via mosquito, specifically the Anopheles mosquito.
But the good news is: It is both preventable and treatable, and therefore shouldn’t keep you from visiting your dream destination.
In case you were wondering, (and I’m sure you were,) there are 5 different types of malaria: Plasmodium (P.) falciparum – the most urgent strain which generally shows up 10 – 12 days after exposure, and P. vivax, P. ovale and P. malariae - milder versions which can still be dangerous for the young, old and sick. P. knowlesi is generally found in macaque monkeys, but may also spread to humans.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms generally emerge within a few days of exposure and resemble the flu with:
- Muscle and headaches
- Chills and sweats
- Abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and coughing may also be present
A family friend, who happens to be a doctor born and raised in the Philippines, told my husband and I that flu-like symptoms tend to come in waves as the “bugs” wake and sleep. Ew, right?
Should you, or your children, develop symptoms like these after being in an area where malaria is present get to your doctor right away for a blood test and possible treatment.
How can it be prevented?
Obviously, if you can prevent a mosquito bite you can eliminate the risk of malaria. This is easier said than done, but a good bug spray – preferably one containing DEET. The higher the concentration of DEET the longer it will last, and it should really only be applied once a day. So if you are going to be out all day long, go for the 30% as higher percentages are not more effective.
Sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito net and staying within screened-in areas are other good preventive measures. But, you didn’t travel across the globe to stay in a screened-in bubble. If you can bear it – despite the heat – get some lightweight long sleeves and pants – most outdoor companies like ExOfficio and REI have bug repellent clothing lines.
And seriously, get that bug repellent. I like Cutter’s All Family towelettes with 7.15% DEET.
Oral anti-malarial drugs are prescribed by destination. (It’s worth mentioning that these medications will not prevent a bite. So, yeah, the bug spray…) Speak with your local travel clinic for advice. Options include: Chloroquine, Mefloquine, Malarone, Doxyclycline and Primaquine.
If possible, bring malaria medication from home:
Researchers from the Fogarty International Center at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, reported in The Lancet Infectious Diseases (May 2012 issue) that up to 42% of anti-malarial medications available across sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are either fake or substandard.