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Tips to Avoid Malaria When Travelling and Backpacking

Recently, a young woman travelling alone in Vietnam stopped taking her antimalarial pills because she was experiencing bad dreams. She teamed up with a female travel companion and they were both bitten by mosquitoes. Her companion had not taken antimalarial drugs, contracted malaria, and spent the rest of her trip very sick in hospital. She was repatriated home to continue her recovery. Luckily for the young woman who had stopped taking the antimalarial tablets she didn't contract the disease even though she had been bitten. However, the remainder of her trip was ruined because she was constantly watching for symptoms and terrified that she would also develop malaria.

Travellers should be aware that stopping antimalarial drugs, or not taking them at all when travelling to a country where there is a risk of malaria might cause a problem with a travel insurance claim. Travel insurance policies have a general exclusion regarding exposure to unnecessary risk. Insurers generally advise that travellers should behave as if they are not insured and exercise reasonable care to prevent illness. In cases like this, claims or assistance would be at the discretion of the Assistance Company or insurer.

There are many opportunistic bugs, parasites, and nasty diseases freely available to travellers. They strike when an unsuspecting tourist lets down their guard, but malaria is the one that tends to get the most press. Smart travellers will educate themselves and do everything possible to avoid contact with mosquitoes. To be fair, it is not the actual mosquito but the malaria parasite carried by infected mosquitoes that poses the danger. No matter how many precautions are taken, the potential to contract this potentially life-threatening disease will always exist when travelling to tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world

The type of malaria parasite depends on the country being visited and the time of year. The main trouble spots are North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia, Oceania, the Caribbean, and Latin America. If embarking on travels to these areas it is essential to take steps to avoid contact with mosquitoes. Consult with a doctor, pharmacist, or visit a travel clinic several months before departure to find out which type of antimalarial will work best for the area of the world being visited. With the enormous amount of information available online about malaria and tropical diseases there's no excuse for anyone to say they did not know!

Some antimalarial drugs are available over the counter, but others need a prescription. Those with pre-existing medical or mental health problems, or who are particularly sensitive to drugs, would be wise to seek the advice of a medical professional well in advance of travel. Antimalarial drugs can produce side effects such as bad dreams, mood changes and sleep disturbances. However, it is not a good idea to interrupt or stop the treatment once it has been started, unless under the direction of a medical professional.

Antimalarial drugs are not a total guarantee against malaria because some of the bugs have built up a resistance. Therefore, external methods should also be used to prevent exposure to mosquito bites. Mosquito nets that have been impregnated with insect repellants should be used at all times for sleeping. The best way to be sure of always having access to a net is for people to take their own with them. The net should be impregnated with an insect repellent for maximum effect, checked regularly for holes, and rolled up when not in use so mosquitoes can't get inside. .

Mosquitoes are at their hungriest at twilight and throughout the night. It is advisable to spray rooms, and ideally there should be fine-mesh screens over all windows and doors if there is no air-conditioning. Clothing is an important factor in avoiding mosquito bites. There are special lightweight travel clothes on the market, which are designed for tropical climates. No one wants to wear long-sleeves or long trousers or socks in a hot climate but it is a good idea to cover up for maximum protection - especially at night. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark fabrics, so light colours should be worn - which are also cooler. Any other methods to keep mosquitoes away should be used, such as insect repellent skin creams or sprays, or alternative natural products.

Regardless of whether antimalarial drugs have been taken, if flu-like, feverish, or other symptoms occur during a trip, or following return home, medical attention should be sought immediately. The doctor should be informed which countries have been visited and that there is the possibility of exposure to malaria or other tropical diseases. Many travellers return from trips abroad each year with symptoms of malaria - and a handful of cases are fatal.

So... Next time you see someone jump up and start swatting at an invisible assailant, the chances are they haven't gone mad but are trying to escape that high-pitched buzzing sound we all dread! More often than not we don't see or hear those sneaky little mossies until it's too late and we start to itch and scratch...

Jean Andrews is a freelance writer living in the UK. She regularly contributes articles for TIA Ltd who offer backpackers travel insurance.