Malaria is one of the deadliest and most prevalent diseases in the world today. It is caused by Plasmodium, a parasite carried by mosquitoes. Unlike recent epidemics such as AIDS, malaria has been afflicting people for hundreds of years. Indeed, some believe that the disease contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Although malaria is rare or nonexistent in developed countries, it continues to plague many poor, tropical nations. Each year, there are as many as a half billion malaria infections worldwide, resulting in the deaths of over one million people. Although there are effective treatments and preventive medications, there is still no vaccine for malaria, and many of those treated suffer relapses.
Symptoms of malaria normally appear 10 days to 4 weeks after infection. Common symptoms include severe shaking, chills, high fever, and profuse sweating combined with a falling body temperature. These symptoms can also be accompanied by vomiting, nausea, headache, and diarrhea. There are several tests that doctors can use to diagnose malaria and various medications are capable of treating the disease effectively.
Anyone traveling to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, South America, South Asia, Southeast Asia, or other tropical locations are at risk of contracting malaria. Visitors to sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is most prevalent, suffer from the greatest danger. In fact, 90% of all malaria deaths occur on the African continent. Travelers should remember that there may be a high risk of malaria, even in places where few members of the local community become ill. In many regions, the indigenous population has built up a resistance to the native strains of the disease and may not exhibit symptoms. However, visitors from outside the area have no such resistance, and may be at high risk of becoming severely ill.
In order to protect themselves against malaria, travelers should utilize insect repellent and wear clothing that completely covers their arms and legs. Insect repellent containing DEET is generally recommended, and individuals should apply it thoroughly and often. Because mosquitoes tend to be more active during late afternoon and evening hours, travelers should avoid being outdoors during these times. If possible, visitors should also attempt to sleep inside air-conditioned buildings. If they cannot, they should sleep under insecticide treated mosquito nets. Additionally, it is important to note that children and pregnant women are at significantly higher risk of becoming seriously ill from malaria and should take extra-precautions.
Prior to departure, travelers should consult with their doctor about their risk of contracting malaria. To do so, they will need to provide their physician with a precise travel itinerary. This is because different parts of the world are affected by different strains of malaria. Knowing the locations of travel will enable the doctor to prescribe the best anti-malarial drug, as not all preventative medicines are equally effective in every part of the world. Furthermore, travelers should follow their doctor’s instructions and usage directions carefully. If a traveler experiences malarial symptoms during or after a trip, he should seek medical attention immediately. After all, malaria can lead to severe health problems and even death if left untreated.
Although malaria is a disease that affects millions around the world, precautionary steps can substantially decrease one’s risk of contracting the disease. Seeking immediate treatment upon infection can also prevent serious complications. Preventing malaria requires thorough planning and medication that only a physician can prescribe. Although somewhat time consuming, these precautions are relatively cheap compared to the high cost of suffering a bout of malaria.