Malaria is an evil, nasty virus passed through female (yep, only the chicks) night-stalking (yep, they mostly ‘hunt’ after hours) Anopheles (yep, it’s only one type of the annoying bug) mosquitoes (yep, you can get something this bad from something this small).
Malaria-carrying mosquitos make their homes in the damp lowlands of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and areas in the Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa are typically the most infested. Malaria parasites dwell in mosquito saliva so when this lady of the night sucks your blood, she’s also leaves behind a few thousand icky cretins in exchange. There are four different types of bugs, one of which is particularly nasty – and it’s this nasty bug, Plasmodium falciparum, that’s responsible for about 80% of all malarial infections, and 90% of malarial deaths.
Once the mosquito-human bonding experience is complete, your new “friends” head toward the liver. After spending one to two weeks building up their red blood cell-attacking army, these parasites re-emerge, causing fever, sweats, chills, muscle soreness, exhaustion, and headaches. Most of the time, people are all right after a few days. However, if the severe form of malaria is left untreated, restricted breathing, coma and even death can result. And while the death rate is relatively low, malaria still kills more than a million people a year, most of them children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Because of the dangers of malaria going untreated, anyone traveling for longer than a week to a malaria-risk area is encouraged to consider bringing and taking anti-malarial drugs. Due to the evolution and mutation of the disease in different parts of the world, treatments have become increasingly complex and should be discussed with a qualified physician. Many of these drugs have rare side effects that include nausea, headaches, disorientation, vomiting and itching, and there is some controversy around taking certain drugs.
Again, use this information as a starting point in your pre-trip research, but be sure to talk about all the options with a doctor who knows the subject well.
Some Common Anti-Malarial Drugs
- Atovaquone and Proguanil (common brand name: Malarone) combines the two drugs to prevent malaria. It must be taken daily, starting 2 days before travel to the risk-area and ending a week after leaving. This is not often prescribed and is usually given as an alternative to other medications.
- Chloroquine (common brand name: Aralen) is the cheapest drug available, and the most widely distributed, with rare side effects. However, chloroquine is no longer effective in many countries and thus no longer used. Chloroquine must be taken once a week, starting one week before arrival and ending one month after departure.
- Doxycycline (common brand names: Doxine 100 or Vibramycin) may have been prescribed to you in the past to fight a bacterial infection. Although it only needs to be taken 1-2 days before arrival, it must be taken daily to fight malaria, and continued for a month after leaving the malaria-risk location. Nausea, yeast infections and susceptibility to sunburn are common side affects. As an tetracycline antibiotic, the use of doxycycline diminishes the effectiveness of birth control pills. Another form of birth control should be used.
- Hydroxychloroquine sulfate (common brand name: Plaquenil) must be taken once a week. Treatment begins a week before arrival and ends four weeks after leaving.
- Mefloquine (common brand name: Lariam) is the most widely known malaria drug, due to its ‘vivid dreams’ side effect, which plagues some users. Severe side effects can cause hallucinations, anxiety and seizures. The drug must be taken once a week, starting one week before arrival and ending one month after departure. Anyone with a history of epilepsy or mental illness is discouraged from taking Lariam.
More info can be found on the Center for Disease Control Malaria page.
>> Be sure to check out the other malaria information right here in the BootsnAll Traveler’s Toolkit!