Your bikini or board shorts are packed. Your travel insurance has been bought. Your flights are booked. Your passport is valid. But what are you forgetting as you head off to sunnier and tropical climes? Checking up on any health concerns where you’re going, that’s what.
There are many diseases you don’t want to land up with after your holiday is over but one of the more common ones in Africa is malaria. But what is it? Malaria is a tropical disease caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium. The infection occurs when an infected female mosquito bites you, or when you have a blood transfusion from an infected donor, or use infected needles by a drug user.
What are the symptoms?
Depending on the species of mosquito, symptoms can take from seven to 35 days to start. It can be as long as six months or as short as five days in people who acquire it through blood transfusion or needle prick.
*tiredness and fatigue
*abrupt chills and fever (39° to 41° centigrade), which may cause profuse sweating
Malaria is often also incorrectly diagnosed as the flu, so you need to keep a lookout for flu-like symptoms on your return. If you don’t treat it, malaria can quickly become life threatening, by disrupting the blood supply to your vital organs – so it’s vital that if you experience any of these symptoms you head straight to your doctor for a diagnosis.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
To diagnose malaria, your doctor does a blood test and you may be hospitalised for observation. Malaria can be cured with prescription drugs but the type of drugs and length of treatment depends on the kind of malaria, where you were infected, your age, and how severely ill you are.
Another concern is that in some parts of the world, these pesky (and sometimes deadly) parasites have developed resistance to a number of malaria medications. But don’t worry too much because in general, early treatment of uncomplicated malaria produces excellent results.
Where are the high-risk malaria areas?
In terms of Southern Africa: Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana all have regions which hold varying degrees of malaria risk (as does our own country South Africa). But check this all with your doctor or at a travel clinic before heading away on your trip.
How do I prevent malaria?
The first thing is to check whether the area you are travelling to is a malaria area. And if it is? Then you need to take preventative medication.
No drug therapy is 100% effective, but some can go a long way to preventing malaria. Currently the drug Malarone (a combination of atovaquone and proguanil) is the drug of choice when travelling to areas where chloroquine-resistant malaria exists. However it’s best to consult your doctor before making any decisions on which medication to take. They will also tell you when to start taking the medication, as many courses should start about a week before you head off on holiday, and continue for a period after your return.
The other main way of preventing malaria is to try and avoid getting bitten by these buzzing creatures:
*Wear clothing with long sleeves and cover your ankles – especially at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active
*Use long-lasting insecticide sprays inside your hotel room
*Ensure that wire or gauze screens on all doors and windows are closed
*Keep a fan on in the room during the night – the current seems to put off the mosquitoes
*Apply mosquito repellents directly to the skin
*Use mosquito netting over the beds
*Try and spend evenings indoors rather than outdoors, as you’re much less likely to get bitten by mosquitoes