Who is most likely to get malaria?
Anyone travelling to a high-risk area of the world may get malaria. Other factors that increase risk include:
- time of year you travel (rainy season and warm weather increase the likelihood)
- being exposed to mosquitoes at night (i.e., not taking protective measures such as mosquito netting around beds)
- getting multiple mosquito bites (the more bites you get, the higher the odds that one of the mosquitoes that bites you will be infected)
- coming from a country, such as Canada, where there is no malaria and, therefore, no natural immunity to malaria.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
Malaria often starts with a fever and flu-like symptoms such as headache, body aches, shaking chills, and fatigue. It can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and jaundice (a yellow discolouration of the whites of the eyes and the skin).
Symptoms of the most serious form of the disease (falciparum) usually begin between 10 and 30 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito, although there are some forms of the disease that can take months or even years to begin producing symptoms.
How is malaria treated?
The hardest part about treating malaria in North America is making the correct diagnosis, because it is not likely the first option that will come to a doctor’s mind.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you have travelled to a malaria-prone country within the last year or if you have been exposed to blood from someone with malaria.
There are several drugs that can be used to treat malaria. They are most effective if begun early after infection starts, preferably within 24 hours of symptoms developing, before the disease has a chance to become life-threatening.
Treatment depends on the exact type of parasite present. This can be determined from blood tests, but treatment can often be started before results return if the physician knows exactly what part of the world the malaria was contracted in.
Also make sure the doctor is aware of any medication allergies you may have.
Be careful about trying to self-treat malaria, particularly using any home remedies or purchasing drugs abroad, as counterfeit antimalarial drugs can be found in many countries.
If you will be travelling to a malaria-prone area, you would be wise to buy malaria medications in Canada before your departure and take them with you.
Can malaria be prevented?
Preventing mosquito bites is extremely important. If you are travelling to an area where malaria is common, wear protective clothing and use insect repellent that contains DEET (30% to 35% preparation for adults).
Also use mosquito netting at night to help keep you from being bitten by mosquitoes.
There is no effective vaccine to protect against malaria yet, although scientists are working to develop one; however, there are several drugs that are helpful in preventing malaria.
These drugs often need to be started before travel to a malaria-prone region and continued for some time after your return home. A travel health expert can help you determine if your destination would make taking antimalarials appropriate.
Sometimes antimalarial medications can produce serious side effects. If you experience seizure, depression, psychosis, anxiety, jaundice, or extreme fatigue, contact your physician.