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What Travelers Need to Know About Malaria

It is almost time again to book those flights and head off to some fascinating destination on the other side of the world. Before you go, a quick malaria primer should be considered and here it is.

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite. The parasite is often transmitted to the body through mosquito bites. Once you have malaria, it is time to rock and roll, but not in a good way. The disease presents symptoms including the chills, high fever, shakes, and a flu like feeling. If not treated, it may be fatal. It is estimated that 300 to 500 million cases occur each year. Approximately 1 million people die from the disease each year as well. In short, it is a common problem and something to take seriously if you are going to be traveling to certain areas.

In the 1950s, there was a major effort to wipe out malaria by going after the mosquitoes. As you probably know, mosquitoes are difficult to wipe out. Get just one in your room at night and you can spend an hour trying to hunt it down. Now imagine try to get all of them in a country! Regardless, the eradication efforts worked well in most first world countries, but not so well elsewhere.

If you are traveling abroad, you need to look into the malaria risk at your destination. Mosquitoes like warmth, so tropical and hot areas tend to have problems. Anywhere in Africa is risky. Much of Asia is as well. Most people don’t realize, however, that malaria is a problem in parts of Eastern Europe. Mosquitoes hibernate during the colder months and the population explodes in the warm months of late spring and summer. Yes, you can catch malaria around Istanbul. In general, the farther east you go, the bigger the risk.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for malaria. The parasite is constantly evolving, so a vaccine would be outdated before it hit the market. Anti-malarial drugs are often promoted as a cure-all to the risk, but this is not necessarily so. Certain strains of malaria are resistant to these drugs, so relying on them can be a fatal mistake. You best bet is to use a health amount of insect repellent in combination with such drugs.

There is one final nasty twist traveler’s should know about malaria. Whether you have been infected can be difficult to determine unless you have a blood test. Why? The parasite might lay dormant up to four years! For most people, sickness within the first ten days to a month is common. Regardless, you should get a blood test upon your return from your trip if you think you may have been bitten.

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