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Malaria - Still a problem for holiday makers

Malaria is such a familiar problem that sometimes we can forget how serious it can be.

In 2013 (the latest figures we could find) there were nearly 200 million malaria cases across the world, with 584,000 deaths due to the disease. If malaria is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can be fatal.

Malaria is a tropical disease, and for most of us going on holiday, it is not likely to be a problem. But of course we are travelling more widely than ever before and there are now around 2,000 British people becoming infected with malaria each year and so it is as important as ever to be on your guard.

Malaria occurs in over 100 countries; the highest risk areas are mainly across Africa and also Asia, central and south America; parts of the Caribbean especially Haiti and the Dominican Republic, parts of the Middle East and some islands in the Pacific. But the malarial map keeps changing, so you need to check the situation in your specific destination before you travel.

All it takes is a single mosquito bite to become infected. The disease is spread by the female Anopheles mosquito which carries the parasite.

If you are travelling to an infected area, the best precaution is to take a course of anti-malaria medication.

There are different anti-malarials available – in some areas the mosquito has developed a resistance to the most common drugs, so it is important to ensure you are prescribed with appropriate drugs for your destination. There has been some concern over side-effects, especially for the drug Lariam which is prescribed for travelers going to sub-Saharan Africa where the old chloroquine/proguanil regime is no longer effective. But here there is a new alternative Malarone which health experts say is nearly as effective and which causes few side-effects.

With some drugs you need to start the course a week or so before travel and continue it for up to four weeks after your return home. One of the most common reasons people contract malaria is because they fail to complete the full course.

No anti-malarial drug is 100% effective though, so it is equally important to try and avoid being bitten. Dusk especially and night time is a particularly risky time; covering up, using nets around the bed and applying insect repellents are all good precautions to take.

Deet has been a main player in repellants for some time. It is diethyl toluamide and offers substantially longer protection at high levels than most alternatives including those with natural active ingredients. The percentage of deet in a product can vary as it has been known to cause skin reactions.

Air conditioning is a good deterrent as mosquitoes don’t like turbulent air and electrical devices can work well too.

By taking sensible precautions and being aware, most people can avoid being bitten.

If you are unfortunate (or careless!) enough to be bitten, then it is important to be aware of the signs of the disease, which usually appear around 7 to 18 days after you have become infected. Sometimes the disease can lie quietly and not manifest itself for a lot longer – even up to a year; so being aware of the symptoms is important.

These can include a high temperature, sweats and chills, headaches, vomiting, muscle pains and diarrhoea.

If you feel well after a holiday, it is always worthwhile telling you doctor about your trip. A simple blood test can determine whether you are suffering from malaria or not.

There is a lot of information available about malaria; one good online source is;

http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/malaria.htm

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