Going tropo this August? Don’t forget your mozzie net!
The 20th of August might be just another day in the summer holidays for you, but for many millions of people who live in high risk malaria areas, it is very significant. It is the day that commemorates the moment back in 1897 when British doctor Sir Ronald Ross made the discovery that female mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans. It won him the Nobel Prize and paved the way for us to understand the disease better.
Yet malaria is still an enormous problem today and affects half of the world’s population. There are 219 million cases of malaria worldwide every year, with 660,000 deaths from the disease. Around 90% of these occur in Africa. In Ghana 100% of the 24 million strong population is at risk from malaria, whilst two thirds of Namibia’s population is at risk. A child dies from malaria every minute. So, despite medical advances, there is still more to be done.
Malaria is carried by female mosquitoes. It isn’t infectious or sexually transmitted and is 100% preventable, which is what makes every death from it such a tragedy. The risk of being infected by a malaria carrying mosquito is greatest in large areas of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, parts of the Middle East and some Pacific islands. Anyone travelling to these destinations is advised to check with their local travel clinic or at least look online at websites like The NHS’ Fit For Travel site, which have the latest updated information.
Prevention is always better than cure
Malaria is a dangerous disease, especially in children or where there is poverty and a lack of access to proper medicines. It can be treated but prevention is by far the better choice. So if you are going away to a high risk area this summer, be aware of the risks and defend yourself against the might of the mozzie. The most effective way of to avoid malaria is to avoid mozzie bites. It’s that simple, but not always that easy. So, here are a few practical measures that will make all the difference:
- Wear long sleeved clothing and long trousers in the evening and at night.
- Sleep under a good, impregnated mosquito net.
- Spray DEET (or another effective anti-mozzie product) on all exposed skin.
- Sleep in rooms with air conditioning or fans and with mesh sealed windows and doors.
Travel clinics will also recommend taking prophylactics to prevent the disease if you are bitten by an infected mosquito. These change from place to place and from time to time as mosquitoes develop resistance. This means that what was recommended last year may not be the case anymore. That means going to see your travel clinic every time you travel and taking the drugs in the way they are prescribed so they are effective. Usually this will entail taking them before you go and continuing after you come back. Many cases in the UK arise when travellers fail to complete their course of anti-malarial pills.
If the malaria doesn’t get you the G&T will…
No doubt you have heard the stories about Gin and Tonic being a good preventative against malaria. Well, the stories are true, but isn’t a reason to avoid standard medicines. Tonic water contains quinine, which in turn comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, which grows in the rain forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes. The cinchona is also known as the ‘fever tree’ because of its ability to cure fevers induced by malaria. This ‘wonder drug’ of its day was brought back to Europe and is said to have permitted the European conquest of the tropics. It was used widely by Brits in the days of the Raj to counter the effects of malaria.
However, quinine is bitter so the ever enterprising expats mixed it (in tonic water) with gin and lemon to make it a little more palatable. As it happens the combination worked so well that the world’s simplest cocktail – and a legend - was created!
However, the bad news is that today’s tonic water doesn’t contain nearly enough quinine to be an effective preventative or cure for malaria. In fact, it is more likely to be the cause of your demise if you imbibed enough to get the protection you need. So don't scrimp on the drugs if you go to a high risk area.
When to seek help…
Each year around 1,700 people in the UK develop malaria which has been caught whilst abroad, with just a handful losing their lives to the disease.
Symptoms of malaria usually take about a week to appear but can take up to a year in rare cases. Symptoms are similar to flu and include fever, shivers, sweating, backache, joint pains, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and sometimes delirium. So if you have been to a high risk area and have any of these symptoms you should seek help immediately. If you are still away when symptoms appear you should go to the nearest clinic or doctor immediately. Your holiday medical insurance should cover any costs incurred, as long as you have it in place.
Every reason to make sure you check your destination and make sure your medical travel insurance policy is up to date.
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