Getting the right vaccines is an important part of preparing for your trip. But you can’t get a shot for every disease out there. There’s been a lot of discussion about malaria for instance. And rightly so, because apart from that malaria is damn annoying, it can also be life-threatening.
First of all: I am an outdoor instructor and social worker with travel experience, not a doctor. I definitely recommend you to visit your local vaccination agency for specific advice for your trip, in addition to the research you are doing. It is a very common question for travelers and there is a lot of speculation about it: whether or not to take malaria pills before you even start your journey. Before you decide whether or not you start a malaria treatment, it is wise to know what malaria is, what the risks are and what your options are.
What is malaria?
Malaria is an infectious disease that you can get through the Plasmodium parasite. When you get bitten by a mosquito that’s infected with the parasite, it enters your blood. Malaria itself is not contagious, so you can’t get infected by a travel companion who has been bitten by an infected mosquito. The risk of the disease is greatest when you visit countries in Asia, Africa or South America, but it also depends on which area you are traveling to. There are different types of malaria. They are all very annoying, but malaria tropica is also really life-threatening. The general complaints that can indicate the disease are similar to the flu:
- Fever (peaks)
- Cold shivers
- A backache
- Muscle strain
- A headache
The time between infection and becoming ill is usually 7 to 14 days, depending on the type of malaria. Sometimes it can take several weeks or months before you get sick. Do you get the above complaints within 4 months after having been in a high-risk area? Always tell your doctor about your trip and exactly where you’ve been!
What can you do?
You can also do a lot to protect yourself against malaria (and itching of common mosquito bites):
- Wear as much covering clothing as possible in the evening, at night and in the morning and put your pants in your socks
- Sleep under an (impregnated) mosquito net at night
- Turn up the AC or fan, mosquito’s love the heat
- Wear light-colored clothes, dark colors radiate more heat
- Wear wide clothing; mosquitoes easily penetrate thin clothing. The more spacious your clothes are, the more difficult it is to get close to your skin
- Don’t use any perfume, scented deodorant or aftershave
Malaria treatment: useful or not?
There’re a lot of different opinions out there whether or not to take a malaria treatment. We often hear that people find it too expensive or are afraid of the side effects. Many people also wonder if it is healthy to take such a long course. In addition, there are also quite a few myths about malaria. In Thailand, for example, they laugh at all those tourists and their preventive malaria treatments. According to the locals, it’s all exaggerated and you just have to pay attention and take the right measures in the risky areas. Using Google you’ll find plenty of maps of all the risky areas in the world, so make sure you do your research in advance. In addition, always visit your local vaccination office before you go. They can give you the best advice based on your personal travel plans. And maybe an emergency treatment can be a good alternative to a long malaria treatment! Ask your vaccination office about this!
Travelers who are visiting countries that have a medium risk of malaria can sometimes carry an emergency treatment with them. Not all countries offer these treatments to their inhabitants, but it’s worth checking at your local vaccination office. When you can get an emergency treatment, you don’t need the preventive treatment and you can take the emergency treatment when you do get infected on your trip. You can also take this if you suffer from symptoms but are not able to go to a doctor or hospital quickly. Depending on the country you’re visiting your local vaccination office may still advise you to take the preventive treatment.
Have you ever been to a high-risk malaria area or country? What did you do to prevent infection?