Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite called plasmodium. Frequently found in tropical countries, this disease is extremely serious, and sometimes fatal.
Five types of parasites are the cause of malaria in humans. The risk of catching malaria varies according to destination. It depends on the type of plasmodium that is causing the crisis in the visited country and the resistance to the treatment that has been acquired over time. The most dangerous malaria parasite for humans, and unfortunately the one that is the most widespread, is falciparum plasmodium.
This parasite is transmitted to humans via mosquito bites from infected female anopheles mosquitoes that are most prevalent in the evening and during the night. It then develops in the human body for approximately one week. Clinical signs begin to appear anywhere from several hours to several months after its development. However, certain serious forms of this parasite can evolve very quickly, in 24 to 48 hours, and can lead to death if not treated immediately.
Generally speaking, Malaria has very few distinctive clinical signs. This is why is it extremely important to have a medical opinion, either from a doctor in the malaria host country, or after your return. The disease becomes serious because it is often diagnosed and treated too late due to the fact that initial signs can be extremely discreet.
If the following symptoms occur, even slightly, immediately consult a doctor:
These symptoms are also associated with many other tropical diseases; therefore you must not follow a malaria treatment without verifying the illness beforehand. Neurological trouble, a coma or convulsions often occur right away and are signs that the illness is extremely serious.
The doctor will examine you and then prescribe an emergency blood test to confirm, via microscopic observation, the exact parasite responsible for these symptoms. If the results are not conclusive during the first visit, a second analysis will be carried out when the fever increases or 24 hours later. If a parasite is present, the doctor will prescribe a treatment, either via pills or perfusion. It is often necessary to remain in the hospital for one or even several days.
It’s much better to prevent Malaria than to have to cure it! Malaria prevention depends on two complementary strategies: reducing the risks of being bitten by a mosquito and a preventive treatment. It is critical to protect yourself from the anopheles mosquito, primarily present at the end of the day and during the night.
1) Here is some easy-to-follow advice that will greatly reduce the risks of being bitten:
Insect repellents come is all forms (lotions, creams, sprays or sticks)and concentrations. They should be applied to all exposed parts of the body, while protecting the eyes and mouth, due to their toxic content. Remember to renew application regularly, every 2-5 hours according to the physical activity involved and the climatic conditions. These products are not water-resistant, and their effectiveness on clothing is very relative.
2) In addition to reducing the risks of being bitten you should take anti-malaria prophylaxis medication. These treatments do not guarantee total protection against malaria but they considerably reduce the risks of the illness developing and its complications
Since first using these preventive anti-malaria treatments, certain strains of plasmodium falciparum have developed a resistance to these drugs called chemical resistance. Check with your country’s Public Health office or the Health Minister’s files to access a world map and find out where these resistant strains of malaria-carrying parasites exist in the world. The countries have been classified into four groups. A preventive treatment adapted to the country group in which you will be travelling and in sufficient quantity to last you throughout your trip must be prescribed by your doctor before your departure. Your pharmacist delivers the medication only on prescription.
If you have any problems whilst travelling, don’t wait until you get home to consult a doctor. Allianz Global Assistance’s emergency medical team is available to discuss any questions or doubts you may have about your health. We can provide useful advice and organize a consultation wherever you are.
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