A primer on malaria
Malaria is a tropical disease found in at least 100 countries all over the world. It is not a concern in most developed countries including the UK because of insecticide and drug use, but if you are travelling to an infested area, there are a few things you should know about malaria to keep safe and avoid health problems.
The disease is transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito. There are 4 types of malaria parasites, as follows:
- Plasmodium falciparum
- Plasmodium vivax
- Plasmodium ovale
- Plasmodium malariae
Unfortunately, there is no effective vaccine against malaria although clinical trials and research are ongoing. In the meantime, roughly 660,000 deaths (WHO stats, 2010) are traced back to malaria and most of the fatalities are children.
If you are bitten by a mosquito, you might feel the symptoms after a week. In extreme cases, the signs manifest only after a year.
Hence, if you were in an area where malaria is present, watch out for the following symptoms:
- presence of fever
- body ache
- poor appetite
- general feeling of malaise
Fever is one the first signs of malaria. It is often high fever from 38°C and above. It eventually comes in 48- hour intervals in Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale. Those bitten by a mosquito infected with Plasmodium falciparum will get fever in 72-hour intervals.
Once malaria is suspected, a blood sample is taken from the patient. Several samples may be needed to identify the type of plasmodium because treatment varies according to the strain. Those who tested positive for Plasmodium falciparum require immediate treatment as this can be life threatening. In this case, the parasite clogs small blood vessels causing damage to body organs such as the brain, lungs and kidneys. The other 3 types are less severe although the parasites can remain in the bloodstream for long periods.
Chloroquine is the preferred drug treatment for patients who contracted Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malaria. Falciparum malaria is treated with a combination therapy – quinine plus doxycycline or atovaquone-proguanil.
If you are going to travel in areas where malaria is prevalent, it is best to follow precautionary measures. Taking preventive drugs before, during and after your journey should be done. Spraying repellent on exposed areas of the body, wearing long shirts and trousers at night, using mosquito nets or screening homes are just a few things you can do for protection. You can also impregnate your clothing with permethrin before they are worn.