Nature is an incredible thing; I’m a big fan. It’s wonderful bursting through the bush, beholding shafts of light that descend from the heavens onto some fluffy whoseywhatsit that no one else bar you and a few other intrepid world travellers have ever got to see. But nothing will ever give you more awe, more respect and more brevity for nature than an animal that no one actually pays good money to willingly encounter.
I’m talking about the Mosquito.
The mighty mosquito has the ability to decimate nations, to kill us with a single slurp and not even blink twice (because they cant blink, they have no eye lids). The awful disease that they carry, malaria, infects some 247 million people worldwide each year, killing around one million that are unlucky enough to not have access to treatment. Having inhabited the earth for more than 100 million years, they live on almost every continent and habitat. Of the 3 500 named species of mosquito, only a couple of hundred bite or bother humans but those couple spread yellow fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya virus and West Nile virus.
Small, annoying, itchy and deadly, they are the one wildlife encounter that will stay with you forever. They force you to experience a world beyond air conditioning, palm fringed beaches and sunset cocktails. They will forever alter the way you travel.
Facts about Malaria
All areas: Zambia, Gabon, Uganda, Togo, Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, CAR, Liberia , Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe , Djibouti, DRC, Ivory Coast,Congo, Comoros isalnds , Ghana, Gambia, Guinea , Eritrea , Equatorial Guinea.
South Africa: Low altitude areas of the Mpumalanga Province, Northern Province, and northeastern KwaZulu-Natal as far south as the Tugela River, Kruger National Park.
Zimbabwe: All areas except Harare and Bulawayo
Tunisia: Only imported cases
Tanzania: All areas at altitudes lower than 1 800 meters
Swaziland: Risk in lowelands
Kenya: All areas at altitudes lower than 2 500 meters; no risk in Nairobi
Namibia: Only northern parts- provinces of Kunene, Ohangwena, Okavango, Caprivi, Omaheke, Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, and Otjozondjupa.
Morocco: Limited to rural areas of Khouribga Province
Mauritius: Rural areas only
Chad: Mainly southern parts and Sudan
Egypt: El Fayoum Oasis area
Ethipoia: Border areas with Somalia and Djibouti and the city of Addis Ababa
How malaria works:
You are out on your holiday, drinking a sundowner and suddenly get zapped by a mozzie that is carrying the particular strain of malarial parasite (some strains are stronger than others.) After about 7 days you wake up in the middle of the night with uncomfortable chills, even though it is very hot and humid outside. You might even start having sweats with a slight upset stomach. The next morning you actually feel surprisingly fine, all the chills and fevers you felt the night before have petty much gone, you still feel tired and ‘flat’ in a way, but it does not seem as bad. The next night, as your red blood cells burst and release more parasites that have been incubating into the blood stream, all the symptoms return ten fold, and voila – you potentially have malaria.
Headaches (like being hit in the head with a cricket bat), inexplicable fevers that disappear after 8-12 hours and then re-appear again, chills, flu-like feelings, aches in your joints, drowsiness, in some instances vomiting and an upset stomach.
Two kinds of malaria, P. vivax and P. ovale, can occur again (relapsing malaria). In P. vivax and P. ovale infections, some parasites can remain dormant in the liver for several months up to about 4 years after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. When these parasites come out of hibernation and begin invading red blood cells (“relapse”), you become sick.
Having travelled in a lot of areas where malaria is a risk we are often asked what can be done to prevent malaria. We are not medical professionals so please take this advice as a travellers’ precautions.
- Use malaria chemoprophylaxis which you can easily pick up from your local travel clinic. Doxycycline and Mefloquine are the two most popular. Be warned that some anti malarials will make you incredibly sensitive to the sun and, in the case of Mefloquine, can produce vivid nightmares and psychotic interludes.
- If you are on a diving holiday check you will be able to dive on your particular brand of anti malarial.
- Get some malaria test kits. You can find these at local travel clinics or in certain pharmacies. In most countries on the African continent we have very easily been able to go to a local pharmacy and get hold of a few test kits. We also always travel with coartem, which we start taking the minute we hit a positive test. You can pick them up cheaply in most local pharmacies outside of South Africa, but make sure you do not get generic copies of this drug, or the ones that comes as a once off treatment as they can be ineffective.
- Know the symptoms. Even on anti-malarials you still run the chance of getting malaria, they are not fool-proof. We have had friends who had been taking incredibly expensive malaria tablets and still came down with malaria on their return to their home country. If you feel, even in the slightest, one of the symptoms, take the finger prick test. Take it again in 12 hours even if it is negative. And if you still don’t feel right get your butt to a doctor (tell them you have been to malaria area) and do a blood test or a more effective prick test to completely make sure.
- So many people end up with the deadly forms of malaria because they brush off the initial symptoms as being “flu-like”. Both my husband and I have had malaria many times now (due to the nature of our work) but that does not mean we get over paranoid and isolate ourselves at the first sign of a sniffle. Millions of people easily travel, work and play in high-risk areas every day, but it is important to know the symptoms and dismiss nothing.
- Sleep under the mosquito net with a fan on.
- Cover up. Cover up everything. Wear long dresses/skirts that touch the ground or long pants that are made of strong cotton so the mosquito can’t get that painful little bite through your clothing. If it is too humid and hot, make sure any exposed skin is lathered with anti mosquito lotion. You can never use enough.
- When you get back from your holiday make sure you pay close attention to your body for 7-12 days which is the incubation period for the malaria virus. After 7-12 days if you have not shown any symptoms, you should be in the clear.
- Start stocking up on products that contain DEET. I know I might get into trouble for saying this next bit, but this is from years of testing and trying. Those bracelets with funny little buttons on them, citronella lotion, catnip and lavender are all lovely non-chemical options but so far in all my travels I have only ever met one person who had hand crafted an effective natural anti-mosquito spray. And that’s all well and good, but she had an intimate knowledge of herbs, and everyone else who didn’t was left covered in itchy bites from day one. Everyone can have a different skin reaction to different oils and chemicals, but so far I have never left home without my trusty container of Tabard, and for the very heavy-duty areas, Bushmans.
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