On April 25 every year, countries around the world observe World Malaria Day, to renew their commitment to fight the disease and to advance in research, prevention and treatment options. This year’s event will take place in Paris and is labeled “Zero Malaria starts with me”.
According to the World Health Organization’s latest “World Malaria Report” released in November 2018, there were 219 Million cases of Malaria reported globally, with the African region accounting for 92% of cases and 93% of Malaria related deaths.
This clearly shows the significant need for adequate Malaria protection for travelers.
We have put together some of the most frequently asked questions about Malaria, that travelers are commonly concerned about.
- What is Malaria?
Malaria is a very serious and sometimes fatal disease if left untreated. The good news is that it is also a preventable and curable disease. Malaria is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. There are at least four known kinds of Malaria parasites that can infect humans, which are Plasmodium falciparum, P.vivax, P.ovale and P.malariae. Out of these four, Plasmodium falciparum is the type of Malaria that is most likely to lead to severe infections, and that can be potentially fatal if not treated promptly. A fifth known type of Malaria parasite, P. knowlesi, is a type of Malaria parasite that is known to infect Macaques in Southeast Asia and which can transmit Malaria to humans. This type of Malaria parasite is not found in Ghana.
- What are the symptoms of Malaria?
Malaria can mimic flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, severe headache and muscle aches. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can also be present. Often times, fever has a recurrent pattern, starting with sweating and chills, followed by high fever, then returning to normal temperatures, with a flare up of fever again at regular intervals.
Malaria also destroys red blood cells, which could lead to severe anemia and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin).
If left untreated, Malaria can progress to a severe stage that can lead to kidney failure, seizures, confusion, coma and eventually death.
- Who is most affected by Malaria?
Anyone that lives or travels to a country affected by Malaria can get sick without proper prevention. But persons that have little or no immunity against Malaria are at higher risk of developing life threatening conditions that could be potentially fatal. Young children, pregnant women and travelers coming from countries with no Malaria are at a higher risk. Also, persons living in remote areas that are affected by Malaria and who do not have access to proper treatment are more likely to die from the disease.
- Is there a high risk of Malaria in Ghana?
Malaria is endemic in Ghana all year round. Travelers are advised to take precautionary measures to prevent getting sick with the disease.
- How soon will I develop symptoms after I get bitten by an infected mosquito?
For most people symptoms of Malaria can often start showing around 10 days to 4 weeks after the bite of an infected mosquito. In persons infected with P. vivax and P. ovale, the parasites can lay dormant in the liver for several months or up to 4 years after an infected bite. Eventually, when the parasites are then released into a person’s blood stream, a person can get sick with Malaria.
- How is Malaria diagnosed?
Malaria is diagnosed through a blood test. The most reliable way to test for Malaria is through a thick and thin blood film, where a drop of your blood is examined for the presence of Plasmodium parasites under the microscope. There are also rapid diagnostic tests available that work with a drop of blood from a finger prick. Those tests can be useful for a quick diagnosis and in areas with little access to laboratory facilities, but it cannot determine which type of parasite has been detected. The definite test should be the thick and thin blood test.
Testing should be done as soon as symptoms appear to start treatment as soon as possible.
- Can I have symptoms of Malaria, but have a negative blood test.
It is possible to show typical symptoms of Malaria and still receive a negative blood test. This could be because you naturally may have no immunity against Malaria and you could experience symptoms very early when the parasite count in your blood is still low. In this case, blood tests should be repeated between 12-24 hours after the first testing for a total of three tests. Should all three tests come back negative, it could be likely that you indeed do not have Malaria, but might possibly have a different disease with similar symptoms.
- Is Malaria contagious?
No, Malaria cannot be spread from human to human like the flu or common cold. Malaria spreads when a female Anopheles mosquito bites a person infected with Malaria. The parasite then enters the mosquitoes’ gut and multiplies. When the same mosquito then bites another person, the parasites are released into the person’s blood stream through the saliva of the mosquito.
Malaria can also be transferred to a person through blood transfusions infected with the parasites or through organ transplantation from an infected person.
Malaria can also be transferred from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby before or during delivery.
- Can I have a relapse of Malaria?
It is possible to experience a relapse of Malaria months or years after an infected bite. This can happen in infections with P.vivax or P.ovale, where the parasites can hide in a person’s liver for a long period.
Traveler’s that have been to endemic countries such as Ghana and that develop symptoms of Malaria after their return to their country, should remember to inform their healthcare practitioner about their trip to start early testing.
Also, if Malaria has not been treated with the right drug (there are resistances against certain drugs and there are inferior medications or counterfeit drugs) parasites can remain in a person’s body, causing a flare up of the disease.
However, if Malaria has been treated with the right medication, parasites will be eliminated and a person is no longer infected.
- Is there a vaccine against Malaria?
Researchers have been trying to produce a vaccine against Malaria for a very long time. The complex immune system process and the ability of the parasite to change its form quickly make it difficult to produce a reliable vaccine. However, a Pilot Malaria Vaccination Implementation Program will be rolled out on 1st May 2019 in Ghana. Targeted are children from 6 month to age 2. This vaccine would strengthen the body’s own immune system to defend it against Malaria, will reduce the number of repeated infections in children per year and should avoid that the disease will progress to a severe stage in infected individuals.
- What are the best ways to prevent Malaria?
Malaria prevention is best tackled through a comprehensive approach. There is currently no method available that is proven to be a 100% effective. Therefore, a combination approach of different methods is advised. Taking the right anti- Malaria medication, together with sleeping under insecticide treated mosquito nets (ITN’s), applying mosquito repellents accurately and covering up exposed skin during peak mosquito bites can all help to reduce the risk of contracting the disease.
- Can my child receive malaria medication?
Yes, but not all medications are safe for children. Dosage of safe medications depends on a child’s weight and will be determined by your healthcare provider.
- Is malaria medication safe for long- term use?
Medication to prevent Malaria has been shown to be safe and well-tolerated for long- term use.
- When should I start taking malaria medication?
Schedules to begin taking anti- malaria medication differ with the different kind of products. It is however advisable to start the treatment a few days in advance to rule out possible side- effects. If symptoms occur, alternative medication can be used.
- Are persons living in Malaria affected countries immune against Malaria?
Persons that have been born or that are living in counties that are affected with Malaria often have built up a higher immunity or tolerance against the parasites. Frequent exposure to the parasites can help an immune system to easier fight the disease. However, this does not mean that these persons are totally immune to Malaria. They will also fall sick, but it might take a little longer or symptoms are not experienced as strongly as a person that has no natural immunity would experience them.
We provide all- inclusive information and tips about Malaria and its prevention in our “Comprehensive Healthcare Guide for Ghana 2019”, which can be found our website www.pmcghana.com