This week’s travel health related blog post is dedicated to malaria. Malaria is a very serious tropical disease that is often overlooked by travelers, however, it can be fatal and must therefore be considered on all trips. It is very important to visit a travel health clinic to check whether the regions you are travelling to require any malaria prophylaxis. Be sure to visit the clinic as early as possible, because malaria prophylaxis often needs to be started prior to travelling, during your exposure and after you departure. Malaria is a serious illness that can get worse very quickly. It can be fatal if not treated promptly. It can also cause serious complications, including severe anaemia and cerebral malaria.
Many cases of malaria, however, can be avoided. There are few steps to be taken to ensure you protect yourself.
- Visit a clinic to assess your risk so that you are aware and take malaria prevention should you need to.
- Ensure you practice good bite prevention – avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering your arms and legs, and using an insecticide-treated mosquito net.
- Ensure you get a full diagnosis if you think you are experiencing any symptoms– seek immediate medical advice if you develop malaria symptoms, as long as up to a year after you return from travelling.
Malaria is caused by a type of parasite known as Plasmodium. There are many different types of Plasmodia parasites, but only five cause malaria in humans. The Plasmodium parasite is mainly spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes, which mainly bite at dusk and at night. When an infected mosquito bites a human, it passes the parasites into the bloodstream.
Once infected, some symptoms can include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- sweats and chills
- muscle pains
Symptoms usually appear between 7 and 18 days after becoming infected, but in some cases the symptoms may not appear for up to a year, or occasionally even longer. It is important to know that you must seek medical help immediately if you develop symptoms of malaria during or after a visit even if it's several weeks, months or a year after you return from an area where the disease is found.
If there's a possibility you have malaria, a blood test will be carried out to confirm whether or not you're infected. You should receive the results of your blood test on the same day. If you have malaria, treatment will be started straight away. If malaria is diagnosed and treated promptly, virtually everyone will make a full recovery. Treatment should be started as soon as the diagnosis has been confirmed. Antimalarial medication is used to both treat and prevent malaria. Which type of medication is used and the length of treatment will depend on:
- the type of malaria
- the severity of your symptoms
- where you caught malaria
- whether you took an antimalarial to prevent malaria
- whether you're pregnant