What Steps can I Take to Prevent Malaria When Traveling?

Diana Bocco

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. It is common in tropical areas, especially sub-Saharan Africa, certain areas of South America, and Southeast Asia. Near three million people die every year from malaria, 90 percent of which contracted it in Africa. About 400 million people contract the disease in one form or another every year.

A mosquito about to bite.
A mosquito about to bite.

Children are more vulnerable to malaria than adults. Even those who survive the disease may show signs of severe brain damage, chronic anemia, and recurrent convulsions. In adults, the most common symptoms of malaria include vomiting, high fevers, joint pain, and hepatomegaly (enlarged liver). Renal failure is a possibility, as it is coma and even death if the disease is not treated early and aggressively.

A bed with mosquito netting.
A bed with mosquito netting.

There is no vaccine against malaria. However, people who are traveling to an area where malaria is prevalent can take a series of steps to reduce their risk of contracting the disease. Most of the drugs that are used to treat malaria are also used in prevention of the disease, but they must be taken non-stop for them to be effective. These include Proguanil hydrochloride (MalaroneĀ®), Mefloquine (LariamĀ®), and Chloroquine, which was the most effective one until recently, when cases of resistance starting spreading. Drugs used to prevent malaria should be taken before, during, and after the trip; depending on the drug, you may be required to take the medication for up to four weeks more after returning home. Drugs are available for everybody, including infants and pregnant women; side effects are rare, although talking to a doctor beforehand is recommended.

Aerosol sprays can treat clothing to prevent malaria.
Aerosol sprays can treat clothing to prevent malaria.

Aside from medication, another preventive step travelers can take includes buying mosquito nets and treating them with insecticides containing permethrin or deltamethrin. Insecticide sprays are also recommended when visiting rural areas, which could be more susceptible to a mosquito epidemic. Treating clothing and shoes with permethrin insecticide will also help protect travelers against malaria. This can be done by buying aerosols or choosing especially-designed clothes that have been pretreated with permethrin.

There is no vaccine to prevent malaria.
There is no vaccine to prevent malaria.
Hepatomegaly (liver enlargement) is one of the most common symptoms of malaria in adults.
Hepatomegaly (liver enlargement) is one of the most common symptoms of malaria in adults.
In most cases, travelers going to a malarial zone need to take prophylactic anti-malaria medication that is available only by prescription.
In most cases, travelers going to a malarial zone need to take prophylactic anti-malaria medication that is available only by prescription.
Severe malaria can cause acute renal failure, and even coma.
Severe malaria can cause acute renal failure, and even coma.

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