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How to prevent malaria - top 10 tips

Prevention and control of malaria

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Malaria is one of the biggest human killers on earth and yet it is preventable and treatable. If you are planning a trip abroad, whether you are off on a backpacking adventure or planning a 5 star round the world trip, it is vitally important that you check if any of your destinations are in malaria risk areas. Check the Fit for Travel website to see if your destination is a malaria risk area. https://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx

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Prevention of malaria

There is a four step approach which is used in the prevention of malaria:

  • A - awareness of risk
  • B - Bite prevention
  • C - Chemoprophylaxis
  • D - Diagnosis

From these steps we can extract the top tips for the prevention of malaria, beginning with making yourself aware of the risks.

Do your research - where are you at risk of catching malaria?

You are in the planning stage of your trip of a lifetime. You have investigated which vaccinations you need, what would be best to pack into a first aid kit and what else? There is not, as yet, a vaccination against malaria and so you need to check if there is any risk of catching the disease in the area you are travelling to.

When am I most at risk - what time of the day are mosquitoes active?

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite which is carried by female Anopheles mosquitoes. These are night biting mosquitoes, most often biting between dusk and dawn, peaking around midnight. These are the times when you are most at risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Do not sleep under the stars

We have mentioned that the biting period for malaria mosquitoes is from dusk to dawn and so sleeping under the stars is a massive risk.

What conditions do malaria mosquitoes like?

Malaria mosquitoes bite at night but even in the day, they will aim for dark places and so it is important to check for mosquitoes which may be hiding in your accommodation, in the bed or the wardrobe for example!

Where do malaria mosquitoes live?

The larvae of Anopheles mosquitoes are particularly fond of clean, unpolluted water and have been found in fresh or salt water marshes, mangrove swamps, grassy ditches, near streams and rivers as well as temporary rain puddles. Another tip is to try to avoid taking accommodation or visiting bars and restaurants which are in the vicinity of areas such as these.

Having covered some of the risks, we have to look at the prevention of mosquito bites.

Sleep under a mosquito net

This is a highly effective way of stopping a mosquito from biting you at the most active part of their day and if they are sprayed with insecticide they are even more effective. If it is necessary to wash the net then it must be sprayed again; this procedure should be repeated every six months in any case

Check the integrity of mosquito nets daily

It is a good habit to check your mosquito net daily to ensure that it has not been damaged in some way as even a small hole can allow the passage of a mosquito. If it is found to be damaged it must be replaced or repaired immediately.

Tuck mosquito nets in after checking the bed

As mentioned earlier, mosquitoes love to hide in dark places so it is important that your mosquito net is tucked into the bed both day and night to prevent any mosquitoes from seeking refuge there.

Shut windows and doors at all times

It is important to ensure that your accommodation is a mosquito-free zone and the best way to do this is to keep windows and doors closed to the outside at all times.

Use insecticide vapourisers

These can be bought as sticks or coils which you set light to but there are questions surrounding their efficacy and safety as they can cause irritation to humans resulting in coughing, headaches, eye irritation and even asthma attacks.

Plug in vapourisers are more effective and tend not to have the side effects associated with the burnable varieties.

Use insect repellent

It makes a lot of sense to put mosquitoes off the idea of biting you and repellents are the best way to do this. They come in many forms including sprays, creams, lotions and roll-ons. It is important to follow the usage instructions and do not forget to repeat as directed.

Cover up!

This is especially important during the ‘biting’ hours and it involves covering up vulnerable skin wherever possible. Wearing long sleeved tops and long trousers with socks is recommended as is ensuring that the fabric is thick enough not to allow a bite to get through to the skin. Spraying the clothing with repellent provides secondary protection and the repellent will last longer on fabric than it does on the skin.

Have air conditioned accommodation

If your pocket allows, stay in accommodation which has air conditioning. Not only will it be more comfortable for sleeping in but mosquitoes don’t like cool air!

Having covered some preventative tips, let's look at what needs to be done in terms of preparing prophylactic medication.

Leave plenty of time to get your antimalarial medication

Depending upon the medication you need to take, it can be necessary to begin taking antimalarials about 8 weeks before you enter a malaria risk region, so make sure you plan ahead. This map highlights which antimalarials may be suitable for the region you are travelling to. But if you’re not 100% sure, Dr Felix or your GP will be able to advise which medication is most suitable for you.

I think I may have contracted malaria - what should I do?

If you think there is a chance that you may have contracted malaria, it is a medical emergency situation and you must seek medical assistance immediately. Loosely speaking, if you are in or have been in a malaria risk area recently and experience flu-like symptoms you must be checked immediately.

Get an immediate diagnosis

The World Health Organisation strongly advises that the presence of the parasite is confirmed by laboratory testing under the microscope or rapid diagnostic testing if the facilities are available. Malaria symptoms are not sufficient to diagnose a case as they are so similar to symptoms that occur from a variety of other causes.

Get immediate treatment for malaria

Early treatment of the disease is crucial and it aims to eliminate the plasmodium parasite completely from the bloodstream of the sufferer. The WHO recommends ACT or artemisinin-based combination therapy to treat uncomplicated malaria. Artemisinin comes from the plant Artemisia annua, also known as sweet wormwood. Its action has the effect of rapidly reducing the concentration of Plasmodium parasites in the bloodstream. It is normal practice to use the ACT to reduce the concentration of parasites and partner drugs to eliminate the rest.

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