Malaria is found most often in Africa, Southern Asia, Central America, and South America, and is relatively rare in the United States. The disease is caused by a bite from a parasite-infected mosquito. Symptoms of malaria can include fever, chills, sweats, body aches, and muscle pain. Fever that goes away and returns is fairly common. Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, backache, and dark urine are also possible symptoms. More severe forms affecting mental status and organs typically require hospitalization. Left untreated, malaria can be fatal.
1. How do I know if malaria is an issue where I’m traveling?
For updated information on countries with malaria, use the resources available through either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). Both of these organizations have maps with malaria risk levels indicated by country, and for regions within countries as well. Global Rescue members can contact Global Rescue for specific malaria advice, or can access country-specific information using the Global Rescue Mobile App. It is important to consider the time of year of your travel. If a country has malaria, there is usually some seasonality to it. Typically malaria follows the rainy season, and is particularly active in the middle to the late part of the rainy season when water is pooling in areas; standing water allows malaria-carrying mosquito larva to populate. Additionally, the more rural your destination, the higher the likelihood of malaria being a concern.
2. Who is at greatest risk?
Anyone who is not native to an area certainly faces an increased susceptibility to malaria. There is a level of tolerance that develops over time in those who are born and live in areas with malaria. A look at global statistics shows that greater than 75% of people who die from malaria are children under five years old. Weigh carefully any decision to travel with children to malaria-prone areas as they are the group that is most at risk for negative outcomes if malaria is contracted. The elderly are the next at-risk population, and the third class of traveler at an increased risk is pregnant women.
3. How can I protect myself?
Take precautions such as wearing long sleeves, using DEET repellants to ward off mosquitoes, and sleeping under netting. Most countries typically have mosquito nets in stores and even supermarkets, but if you’re concerned that you won’t be able to find them, it is a good idea to buy them in advance. The insecticide treated nets are best. People sometimes pre-treat their clothing, too. There are anti- malarial prophylactic medications (preventative therapies) that one can take. It is important to note, however, that none of these treatments is 100 percent effective. Seek advice from your regular healthcare provider, or a provider experienced in travel medicine to help decide which of these medications might be best for your individual health profile.
Again, it is always a good idea for travelers to check in with their primary care provider or a travel medicine professional before traveling for a detailed discussion of their risk for malaria.
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