Africa has its share of dangers that you need to be aware of when travelling on the dark continent. Most people are aware of the danger of political unrest in many of the countries and the dangers that some animals may present to the average traveller, but perhaps one of the most dangerous threats is one that you are cannot even see: malaria.
Malaria is quite common on the African continent and there are many countries where the disease is endemic. Despite the fact that the disease can be treated many people all over Africa die every year from malaria. If proper care is taken when travelling in countries where malaria is common, however, there is nothing to fear.
Unlike many other diseases, malaria is not caused by a virus or a bacteria, but rather by a parasite. The parasites of the genus Plasmodium are the most common causes of the malaria in Africa and other parts of the world. There are four different species of the parasite but the most common cause and the deadliest form of malaria is Plasmodium falciparum.
The parasite is transmitted via the Anopheles mosquito when it feeds. If the mosquito has fed from a person or animal that was infected with the parasite, the parasite can be transmitted to another person when it feeds again. Once it enters the bloodstream, the parasite starts its life cycle and invades the various organs of the body. If left untreated, it can reach the brain and lead to coma and death.
There are various cures for malaria. The medications aim at destroying the parasite in the bloodstream wherever it may be. But while the disease can be cured, it is one of those cases where prevention is the most important part of the cure.
If you are planning on entering an area that is designated as a malaria zone, there are things that you can do ensure that you reduce your chance of catching malaria. Many of the lodges and resorts also take special care to ensure that their guests remain safe so be sure to ask your hosts for assistance if you are unsure.
Many of the precautions are based on preventing a mosquito from from feeding on you in the first place. The following list are some common precautions that are very useful:
- Try to avoid being outdoors at night since this is when mosquitoes tend to be more active.
- If you are outside at night, where long-sleeve clothing to leave as little of your skin exposed as possible.
- Use a good insect repellent that contains DEET (diethyltolumide) to discourage mosquitoes from coming close to you in the first place.
- Most lodges and camps should provide mosquito nets in the rooms or sleeping quarters. Remember to use them!
- Before you go to bed, spray your room or sleeping area with an insecticide. Those containing pyrethoid are especially effective against mosquitoes.
- Ceiling fans and air conditioners make it harder for mosquitoes to fly in your room.
- Burn insect coils or use electric repellent mats while you sleep for some extra protection.
The important thing to remember is that there can never be too much protecting you against mosquitoes.
The second part of prevention is the use of prophylactic medication. Various medications are available that can give you some measure of protection against malaria. Ask your doctor to prescribe prophylactic medication and follow the course to the letter. A typical course of prophylactic medication can use variable doses, different medications and the like to give you adequate protection. If you do not complete the course, you may make yourself vulnerable.
Even the best precautions and medicine might not be enough. Sometimes even the best prepared person can still get ill and that is why you need to know what to look out for during and after your trip. A rule of thumb that you can follow is that if any of the symptoms of malaria start showing up five to seven days after you entered or left a malaria zone, consult your doctor to be safe.
The symptoms may resemble a cold and may not be dramatic. These symptoms, however, may shift dramatically severity. The symptoms may include:
- aches and pains
- tiredness and malaise
- sore throat
- coughing may be observed in children
As the condition progresses, the severity of the headaches may increase. If you suspect that you may have contracted malaria, it is important to consult your doctor. This is especially important in children where the disease can be very serious.
When travelling in countries where malaria is a problem, it is handy to remember that prevention is the most important part of the cure. Worrying about malaria should not be your biggest concern when you go on safari in Africa. Following these simple tips will keep you safe and your hosts will also ensure that you have nothing to worry about.
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