Good News! - It is preventable
There are approximately 300 to 600 million reported cases of Malaria, killing over 1 million people, every year. In most cases unfortunately these victims are not educated about the disease and they also can’t afford the prophylactic drugs or the cure.
The good news is that it is preventable, so if you are prepared there is no reason why you should not have a healthy and happy trip to Victoria Falls
Not all Mosquitoes carry Malaria, it is only the female Anopheles mosquito which does. This little blighter can be distinguished from other mosquitoes by the palps (secondary set of front legs) which are as long as the proboscis, and by the presence of discrete blocks of black and white scales on the wings.
The female Anopheles (photo: ZIMSEC)
Adult Anopheles can also be identified by their typical resting position: males and females rest with their abdomens sticking up in the air rather than parallel to the surface on which they are resting. They are also silent and therefore you don’t hear any buzz to warn you of their presence. Conversely if you can hear them buzzing - then don't worry!
We have broken down our recommendations to keep you safe into three sections. Before you leave, While you are There and Returning Home. Please read on....
Before you leave for Victoria Falls
Ideally 2-6 weeks before travelling – Visit your Doctor, pharmacist or travel clinic - if you are past this still get advice – as something is better than nothing. Tell them that you are travelling to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia.
The most severe strain of malaria and the one you need to watch out for is Plasmodium falciparum also known as Cerebral Malaria. It does occur in the Victoria Falls region and Zimbabwe. So it is vital that this information should be passed on to your Doctor, this particular strain is resistant to chloroquine and therefore medicines that were effective five years ago such as Chloroquine, Proguanil and Maloprim may no longer be so effective.
There are several drugs on the market that are licensed for preventing malaria, which one to use will depend on your individual circumstances, so please consult your Doctor and don’t forget to tell them of any other activities that you might be doing on holiday, like Scuba Diving as this can have an impact on which drug to use.
While in Victoria Falls
There will be lots of great things to see and do – have fun and enjoy your holiday but always remain malaria aware and remember to keep up with your tablets – DON’T miss one. People often contract malaria because they forget to take their prescribed prophylactic, and also become complacent about the prevention measures that must be taken.
The next most important thing to do is to avoid getting bitten. Insect repellent and sleeping under a mosquito net is a must. Always insist on a mosquito net. Most hotels and lodges will have a mosquito net in the room. But if they don't, pack your own and find a way of hanging it over you at night. Take the net down in the day and roll it up or tuck it into the bottom of the bed so that nothing can get inside.
It is also a good idea to spray your room with an insecticide before going in at night to kill any mosquito that may have flown in during the day. Mosquito coils if available are very effective.
Mosquitoes feed from Dusk till Dawn. So at dusk the mosquito attack – this is the most dangerous time and generally lasts for about an hour and a half. You must use Insect repellent - Tabard and Peaceful Sleep are the two that I have used and find work. I also recommended you put on protective clothing – long sleeve shirts, trousers and socks.
Apply the repellent to any part of the body that is not covered by clothing, making especial note of the juicy ankles. Use repellent under thin clothing as they can bite through these as well.
It is a good idea to always carry a stick repellent with you in your bag or pocket, just in case you are unexpectedly out and about at dusk. Sticks are also easier to apply to the face. Dawn is also a bad time and hence the need to sleep under a net.
Don’t take this as gospel, and never use it as the only prophylactic. But you are at higher risk during the wet season from December through to April. Because of the rain there is more surface water lying about which the mosquitoes breed in. It is also hotter at this time of year which suits them better.
Be Careful... It only takes one bite from a carrying mosquito to contract this disease
On Returning home
Please do not forget to finish the course of tablets. It is easy to think that because you are away from the zone that you don’t need to this is definitely not the case, malaria parasites can remain in your body and continue to reproduce rapidly.
If you return home and start feeling unwell, with any flu like symptoms, headache ,fever, nausea seek medical advice immediately and please make sure that you tell them you have been in a malaria zone and ensure that a malaria test is done – this will be in a form of a blood test. This will enable a speedy diagnosis and could potentially save your life.
The medication will be a course of tablets normally taken over 3-7 days. Time is very important when you are dealing with cerebral malaria – If you catch it in time a full recovery is normal as per our own experience….
Our Personal Experience with Malaria
In January 2008 we travelled as a family to Botswana – On this particular occasion we did not take any prophylactics. But we did take extreme measures about not getting bitten. Applying insect repellent at dusk, using long sleeved clothing and definitely sleeping under nets.
On our way home we happened to be at the border post at dusk – we had all put on our repellent as told – except for Shane my youngest son – he and his brother were messing around and managed to lose the repellent. As we got back in the car I asked him if he had put it on and he said not – so we found it and put it on – it could only have been about an hour without.
We returned home and seven days later I was called to the boarding school – Shane was unwell. I had told the school that we had been in a Malaria Zone and we immediately decided to go for the blood test.
The Doctor and the Lab were held back for us – Within two hours we had the results that he had Cerebral Malaria. We got the medication prescribed from the pharmacy and started it immediately. We had a very long night whilst his body and the medication fought the parasite – but because of the short time that it had taken for us to diagnose it and start medication, he made a full recovery very quickly, within about three days he was well and back to normal albeit a bit weak.