MALARIA : RISK AND PREVENTION WHILE TRAVELING
Malaria is a fatal disease caused by a parasite, which is transmitted to human through the bite of a contaminated mosquito. On average, one person dies of malaria every 15 seconds in the world. Although the disease mostly affects Africa, it may be present in every tropical country on the planet. Travelers are potentially at high risk of malaria. In France, about 5 000 travel-related cases of the infection are recorded every year, including 20 deaths. If you intend to travel to Africa, to Asia, or to any other area where malaria is present, you must take some precautions to protect yourself against the disease.
BEFORE YOUR DEPARTURE
Before traveling, it is important to see a doctor, who will prescribe you a prophylaxis treatment to prevent malaria. Note that anti-malarial medicines can not be purchased without a medical prescription. You should be aware that to be effective, this preventive treatment must be started up to a week before your departure, continued while you are traveling and maintained during one month after your return, without any interruption.
Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria and should not go to an area affected by the disease. If you are pregnant and you can not avoid traveling to a country where malaria is present, it is essential that you talk to your doctor about your trip prior to your departure. Note that some anti-malarial treatments are contraindicated during pregnancy. Among the authorized drugs, quinine, chloroquine and proguanil can be quoted. Also, be aware that you will have to use mosquito repellents with extreme caution during your stay in the infected country.
While traveling, you must strictly follow your preventive treatment for malaria. In addition, you must protect yourself efficiently against mosquito bites :
- Wear clothes entirely covering your skin, such as long pants and long sleeves, especially between sunset and sunrise (as the mosquitoes responsible for malaria are most active during this period). Preferably wear lightly colored clothes, which are less attractive for insects.
- Apply mosquito repellent on exposed skin, on your clothes and on your mosquito net. Insect repellents usually remain effective during 2 to 12 hours, depending on the concentration of active ingredients they contain.
- Before going to bed, close the door and the windows, and meticulously check your room for mosquitoes.
- Always sleep under a mosquito net. Check that there are no holes in it, and that is it correctly enveloping your whole mattress.
AFTER YOUR RETURN
After your return, it is important that you continue taking your preventive treatment for malaria, even if you don’t feel sick and you have correctly protected yourself against mosquitoes while traveling. If you experience a fever, you must see a doctor immediately, as it could be the beginning of a malaria attack. To confirm the diagnosis, you will have to undergo a blood test. In less than two hours, you will have the results and know if malaria parasites are present in your blood cells. To treat malaria, quinine is often used. But note that other medicines are also effective against the disease.