In the lead-up to Christmas, frosty weather can seem romantic; but come mid-January most of us are fed up with the cold. For any readers planning to escape the winter chill by jetting off to sunnier climes, there are a few travel health issues to take into consideration.
Certain destinations – particularly in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America – will require specific travel vaccinations. Some travel vaccines must be administered as a course over several weeks, which means you should try to book an appointment at least six weeks before you travel.
With some destinations, you may also need to practise mosquito bite prevention and take antimalarials. Many travellers who are at risk of malaria aren’t completely aware of the dangers of this disease, and don’t take the correct steps to stay safe.
To ensure you stay protected during your winter getaway, read on.
How is malaria spread?
Malaria is nearly always spread through the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. This type of mosquito usually feeds between dusk and dawn, which means you are most at risk of getting bitten at night.
Mosquitoes spread malaria by feeding on the blood of an infected person; the malaria parasites enter the mosquito’s body and travel to its salivary glands. The next time this mosquito bites someone, the parasites enter the person’s bloodstream where they travel to the liver and multiply. Symptoms begin when the parasites re-enter the bloodstream from the liver.
How dangerous is malaria?
Malaria can be very dangerous – in fact, in 2016 it killed 445,000 people around the world. The key deciding factor in the severity of a malaria case is the type of parasite by which it has been caused.
There are five types of malaria parasite that cause malaria in humans. The most dangerous is Plasmodium falciparum, which is particularly widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. This type causes a quick onset of symptoms and can lead to severe illness within a short space of time.
Other types of malaria are also dangerous, but considered slightly less of a health risk, either because they do not cause symptoms as quickly, or because they are less widespread.
How can I avoid malaria?
The best way to avoid malaria is to educate yourself on your risk, seek guidance from a health professional, and to be very careful about taking the recommended precautions. Malaria zones change fairly regularly, so to stay up to date, make sure you speak to a travel health professional, and/or check out the risks associated with a particular destination by using a site like Travel Health Pro.
You also need to be aware that different malaria risk zones require different antimalarials – if you have some malaria tablets left over from a previous trip, you need to check that they can provide protection in the destination you are visiting.
When you enter a malaria zone you will need to start practising mosquito bite prevention, as this is the best way to avoid contracting the disease. You should:
- Wear long-sleeved tops and long, loose trousers
- Cover exposed areas of skin with mosquito repellent
- Sleep in accommodation with air conditioning and insect screens on the windows and doors
- In more basic accommodation, use a mosquito net impregnated with insecticide and plug-in insecticides
- Be particularly cautious at night
If the area you are visiting also requires antimalarials, you should take them exactly as recommended by your doctor or pharmacist. All courses of malaria tablets must be commenced before entering a malaria zone and continued after you have left. Even if you are taking antimalarials, you must still practise bite avoidance, as malaria tablets cannot always provide 100% protection against the disease.
If you do contract malaria you will likely experience some of the following symptoms:
- Muscle pain
If you are in a malaria zone, or have just left one, and you begin experiencing these symptoms, you should visit a doctor immediately.
You can easily obtain malaria tablets and get advice on how to take them correctly, from The Online Clinic. Click here to find out more.