Malaria. We’ve all heard about it. We all know it can make you really sick. So why are people still travelling without anti malaria tablets? Should you take the risk of travelling without your malaria prophylaxis?

Absolutely NOT.

Malaria is no laughing business. It’s serious. It can kill you. Prevention is simple. Not foolproof but simple. There is no way to guarantee you won’t get malaria but you can decrease the odds significantly by taking anti malaria tablets. They might just save your life.

Here are some stats which may convince you if I can’t!

Malaria statistics according to The World Health Organisation 2016

There were 216 Million cases of Malaria in 2016 – It is a BIG problem

There were 445000 malaria deaths in 2016

Malaria is a problem in 91 countries worldwide – NOT just Africa!

The prevalence of Malaria has increased by 5 million since 2015.

So if I’ve got you convinced that you shouldn’t leave your anti-malaria tablets at home, then stay reading for advice about which malaria pills to choose from Malarone to Doxycycline and also for general tips on how to protect yourself from Malaria.

picture of a basic hospital ward in a devloping country. Avoid being treated here by taking anti malaria tablets.

(For an insight into what healthcare is like abroad, you might enjoy reading my article about my experience volunteering in a hospital in Ghana.)

So What is Malaria? 

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite carried by mosquitos and there are several types.

  • Plasmodium Falciparum – The most dangerous and most likely to affect the brain (Cerebral Malaria) It usually presents within 6 months of contact with the mozzie often within the first month of exposure.
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  • Plasmodium Ovale and Plasmodium Vivax – often causes frequent relapses and can present years after exposure!

 

  • Plasmodium Malariae – the most likely to present many years later and the least common type of Malaria diagnosis in the UK.

 

Picture of a mosquioto. Mosquitos carry malaria, protect yourself with anti malaria tablets

After being bitten by a mosquito carrying malaria, the parasites will migrate to the liver and multiply in huge numbers. They are then released into the bloodstream and cause the break down of red blood cells (which carry oxygen in our blood.) The sudden release of the parasites causes relapsing fevers. Malaria can go on to cause kidney failure, uncontrolled bleeding, seizures and can put you in a coma. It can also be fatal. It’s that serious.

I don’t mean to put you off travel! There are risks everywhere. When you cross the road or drive your car! But you wouldn’t drive your car without a seatbelt, would you? Don’t travel to Malaria affected areas without Malaria protection.  Yes, there’s no 100% guarantee that you won’t get it anyway but with anti malaria tablets, the risk will be dramatically reduced. Just like the risk of serious injury in a car accident is dramatically reduced by wearing a seatbelt!

“I worked in Côte D’Ivoire for three months and caught malaria in the very first three weeks, even though I took precautionary medicine, namely quite strong antibiotics. Nonetheless, it got me and made me feel as if a truck rolled over my body. What started out as normal flu, ended up with me feeling super weak for at least one month.”

– Clemens Sehi, travellersarchive.com

What are the Symptoms of Malaria?

Usually, there is a prodrome of feeling vaguely unwell, fatigued with headaches, diarrhoea and a dry cough

This is then followed by intermittent bouts of fevers with hot and cold sweats lasting around 12 hours and occurring every few days.

Malaria prevention

In severe or complicated cases of Malaria, there can be seizures, a reduced level of consciousness, kidney damage, fluid on the lung, severe and life-threatening anaemia, shock and excessive bleeding!

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“I worked on Lake Malawi as a scuba instructor for a couple of months and had malaria more than once. The first time I woke up with sweats, fever, chills, body aches, bad headaches, and just feeling terrible in general. I had the strangest dreams and remember thinking is it possible to feel this horrible and be OK again in the morning?”

– Campbell Louw, stingynomads.com

How do I know if I need to take anti malaria tablets?

There is a great NHS resource that I always refer to before I travel anywhere. It quickly highlights what the malaria risk is (with maps to show parts of the country at highest risk) along with other helpful information like which immunisations you need. You can find this at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk

Fit for travel website - find all the health information you will need

Fit for travel website - country guide

fit for travel website malaria map

 

Which anti malaria tablets should I take?

This will depend on where you are going and the level of risk in the area, which strains of malaria are prevalent etc. The best way to find out what you should be taking is to speak to a nurse at your health centre or visit a travel health clinic such as Nomads. But briefly speaking, the most popular malaria pills are Malarone, Larium and Doxycycline. Let’s compare those now!

Types of anti-malaria prevention medication

Malarone (Atovaquone/Proguanil)

  • The most expensive malaria prevention medication but also has the best side effect profile. It causes less side effects than Larium and Doxycycline.
  • Start 3 weeks before and continue for 1 week afterwards
  • Taken as a single daily dose.

Doxycycline 

  • Cheap by comparison to Malarone but sometimes causes as sun sensitive rash.
  • Start 1-2 days before travel and continue 1 month after travel.
  • Taken as a single daily dose.

Larium (Mefloquine) 

  • Cheaper than Malarone and without the risk of sun-sensitivity, however, there is a very small risk of psychiatric side effects, especially unusual dreams. Therefore it is not recommended for anyone with mental health problems.
  • Taken weekly.
  • Start 1-2 days before travel and continue for 1 month after travel.
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So if malaria prevention medication isn’t foolproof, how else can I protect myself?

Prevention is always better than cure. As well as taking anti-malaria tablets, you can also try to prevent annoying potential risky mosquito bites by regularly applying mosquito repellant (preferably one containing a high percentage of DEET,) wearing loose long sleeves and sleeping in an air-conditioned room with the window shut or even better, under a mosquito net!

mosquito malaria

“Back in the 1980s, I had malaria four times in my first year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi. Here’s what I learned: yes, you should take your prophylaxis as directed and it will ward off a large percentage of the parasites that mosquitoes carry. However, the prophylaxis is not a guarantee, so you should also be very paranoid: wear DEET repellent during the day, long sleeves and long pants in the evenings, and a mosquito net at night. Believe me, you don’t want to risk getting malaria!”

-Rachel Heller, https://rachelsruminations.com

Get your Mosquito prevention kit here:

 
In Summary
* Malaria is a huge problem in 91 countries worldwide and caused 445000 deaths in 2016. * Taking malaria prevention medication reduces the risk by 90% * Malaria can present itself many months or even years after exposure to the parasite. Always tell your doctor if you have travelled to a malaria destination. * Some travel insurance companies will not cover you if you do not take anti-malaria medication!  *You can help reduce the risk of getting malaria further by wearing long sleeves and plenty of DEET.  * If you have symptoms of malaria, see a doctor as soon as possible   * ALWAYS TAKE MALARIA SERIOUSLY!*

Have you found this article helpful? If so you may also enjoy my articles about altitude sickness and women’s health problems whilst travelling.

Have you had malaria? If so it would be really helpful to hear about your experience! Please comment below!