Believe it or not, there is a day, each year, which celebrates mosquitoes. World Mosquito Day falls on August 20th and actually commemorates a very auspicious occasion — the discovery that female mosquitos can transmit malaria to humans. Thanks to Sir Donald Ross’ discovery, we are now able to protect ourselves against this very serious disease. Despite modern-day vaccinations for all types of illnesses and diseases, malaria still remains an endemic issue in many parts of the world. As an international traveler, you’re at even more risk of contracting it without malaria medication.
Here’s what you need to know about these preventative, life-saving pills.
Malaria is a life-threatening illness. The bite of an infected female mosquito transmits it and it takes just one bite to become infected. It causes very high fever, flu-like symptoms, and chills that can quickly progress into more serious symptoms if not treated quickly.
If you’re traveling to a malaria area — generally this includes parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Pacific Islands, and parts of the Middle East, you need to take preventative measures.
Malaria medication is a prophylactic type of medicine, this means that you’re taking the medication as a preventative measure to keep infection at bay. Bear in mind that these pills are not 100 percent efficient at staving off malaria, but they do offer great protection for international travelers.
Yes, malaria medication is not something you can get over the counter. You’ll need to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider at least 6 weeks before you travel.
Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate malarial medical according to your health status and the risk of contracting malaria at your travel destination. The reality is that malaria medication is not cheap, so be prepared to work it into your travel budget.
You might be traveling with a group of friends who are taking a different type of malaria medication than you. This is not something to worry about as each medication prescription is personal and depends on your own, individual risk.
It’s important that you stick to the malaria medication prescribed by your doctor as it’s based on your health status and what will work best for you. Malaria medication also differs based on any other medications you’re taking, the duration of your travels, your destination, your itinerary, and more.
It’s important to stick to your medication regime in the lead-up to your vacation, and after you leave/return home. This is because malaria has an especially lengthy incubation time. The malaria parasite takes a minimum of 7 days to complete its lifecycle once it’s in your bloodstream. It can then take another 14-30 days for malaria symptoms to first appear.
Not only this but the female mosquito that transmits the disease works from sunrise to sundown, without rest. They leave behind no trace, i.e. no bite or welt and they do not have a signature mosquito buzz. This means it’s very difficult to detect once you’re bitten.
Taking your medication daily and diligently, as prescribed by your doctor, is the best way to prevent infection.
No matter what type of medication you take, there are always side effects. It’s no different with malaria medication. The truth is that some of the side effects are not always pleasant and are a big reason why travelers stop taking their medication midway through their travels, or thereafter.
It depends on the type of malaria medication you’re prescribed, but some of the most common side effects include:
Your health practitioner should go over the symptoms of your medication with you and brief you on what to expect. You can test the mediation beforehand (a couple of weeks before your trip) to see how you react. If you’re really struggling with the side effects, your doctor can alter your prescription for you.
It might feel tempting to skip a dose of medication, especially if you want to avoid the side effects for a special occasion. But it’s vital that you take your medication consistently.
If your doctor tells you to take it daily, and at the same time each day, then do your best to do so. Some medication regimes require you to take it weekly. Make sure to take it on the same day, at the same time, each week.
If you happen to miss a dose, take your medication as soon as possible the following day. If you’re taking medication daily, don’t take a double dose the next day to make up for it. Rather, skip that dose and continue with your next dose the following day.
So, what if you’ve had malaria before? Is it still necessary to take malaria medication before you travel? The short answer is yes — while you might have partial immunity, you can still catch malaria again. Immunity to malaria only lasts a short time, too.
As time passes, your immunity to the diseases wanes, so it’s still important to prepare yourself before you travel to a high-risk malaria area.
Aside from taking your anti-malaria medication as prescribed, here are some helpful tips to reduce your risk of exposure to mosquito bites while you travel:
Most importantly, try to relax and enjoy your vacation. There’s no need to be paranoid about mosquito bites if you know you’ve taken all the right preventative measures!
If you’re traveling to a high-risk malaria region, taking your malaria medication is the best thing you can do to safeguard yourself and truly enjoy your travels.
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