- Find out if you are traveling to an area where malaria is endemic. There are very few countries in Africa that are malaria-free, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The US Center for Disease Control keeps a current map of the malaria risk areas, check it here.
- If the answer to the above is yes, then visit your doctor or travel clinic at least 6 weeks before your departure and get a prescription for malaria pills (prophylactics). Ask your doctor to provide you with the correct dosage of medicine for both prevention and treatment of malaria. It's unlikely that your health insurance will cover the prescription in the US.
Commonly prescribed malaria prophylactics and treatments include:
- Primaquine (sometimes post-travel)
- Start taking your malaria pills before you depart as instructed by your doctor - usually 1 week (sometimes longer). Make sure you take them exactly on schedule without missing doses. Children under 12 and women who are pregnant should consult their doctors before taking any anti-malarial medications.
Common side effects include photosensitivity when taking doxycycline and neuropsychiatric side effects when taking mefloquine.
Check with your doctor if you have any concerns or questions about this.
- Obviously the best way to avoid malaria is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. The following tips will help you do just that. It's difficult to avoid every single bite and still enjoy your safari or time at the beach, so take malaria prophylactics as well.
- Tips for avoiding mosquito bites:
- Use a mosquito net at night, the most effective are those treated with an insect repellent. Bring one with you, they are very light and will easily fit in your luggage.
- Spray your room before you go to sleep with insect repellent. A brand called Doom is widely available and very effective in Southern Africa. Mosquito coils are also highly effective and burn for up to eight hours. Place the coil under your bed and try not to step on it if you get up in the middle of the night - it hurts!
- Stay in rooms with screens on the windows, fans and/or air conditioning.
- Switch off all lights while you are sleeping since mosquitoes are attracted to light.
- Avoid wearing strong after-shave or perfume, the smell will attract mosquitoes.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved clothing especially around dawn and dusk when the anopheles mosquitoes are most active.
- It is very important to treat malaria as soon as symptoms arise. Symptoms include chills, fevers, headache, nausea and vomiting. Even if you have the treatment for malaria with you see a doctor as soon as possible so a correct diagnosis can be made.
- Antimalarial drugs do not prevent you from getting malaria, but they kill the parasites at an early stage of development. This means your bout of malaria will be a lot less severe than if you had never taken pills to begin with.
- Contrary to many peoples' beliefs, once you get malaria you will not necessarily have recurring episodes of the disease. Malaria is curable as long as you seek treatment as the symptoms occur.
- A malaria vaccine has not come on the market as yet, although clinical trials are being carried out.
- Trust the local doctors. They are familiar with the strains of malaria in the area and how to treat the disease effectively.
What You Need
- Anti-malarial drugs
- Insect repellent with DEET
- Mosquito net
- Long-sleeved clothing and trousers