HEALTH CENTER

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Malaria and Travel by Minnie Alcantara

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by a Plasmodium microorganism.  Malaria is widespread in the tropical and subtropical regions including destinations in the Sub-Saharian Africa, Asia and the Americas.  When a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, the Plasmodium parasite multiplies within the red blood cells causing symptoms such as fever and headache.    Additional malaria symptoms include chills/shivering, joint pains, body aches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, jaundice and convulsions.  These symptoms may start to occur 7-9 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. 

Before Traveling:

It is very important to set up an appointment with your health care provider, ideally 6-8 weeks prior to your trip.  Travelers visiting high risk areas with malaria will not have immunity.  They most likely will need to start on anti-malarial medications. These treatments may need to begin as early as 2 weeks before departure.  The type of anti-malarial medication prescribed will vary according to the strain of malaria in the region.  It is significant to purchase your medications before traveling abroad; drugs purchased overseas may not meet U.S. standards and could be ineffective.

During Travel:

Make sure to take your anti-malarial medications regularly as prescribed by your health provider.  Unfortunately, people who are taking anti-malarial medication may still become infected.  The most important thing to do is reduce your chances of being bitten.  Pack insect repellent containing up to 20-50% DEET.  Apply repellent to any exposed skin, always on top of sun block.  Avoid mosquito bites when they are most active which is between dusk and dawn by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.  Mosquitos can bite through clothing, therefore, repellent should be sprayed on your clothing for added protection.  Sleep under mosquito nets (which should be impregnated with insecticide) if sleeping in an unscreened room.  Spraying insecticides in the room will also help control mosquitos.  Remain aware of malaria at your destination, people often contract malaria when they start to become complacent during their trip.

After Your Trip:

When you return from your destination, it is very important to follow through with the health advice given by your physician.  Make sure to continue and finish the course of anti-malarial medication as directed.  It may be difficult to recognize signs of malaria; the initial symptoms may be mild and could be mistaken for the flu.  If you develop any flu-like symptoms after returning from your trip (within the first 3 months and up to a year), seek medical attention and make sure to let your provider know that you had recently traveled to a malaria-risk destination. 

Malaria, like most serious travel health risks are preventable.  So plan wisely and prepare for happy and healthy travels!

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.