Avoiding Malaria when Travelling to Africa

According to the World Health Organisation’s regional office for Africa, Africa accounts for 85% of the world’s malaria cases and 90% of malaria deaths worldwide. Much of Africa has a high risk of malaria throughout the year. You will want to consult the NHS’s Fit for Travel destinations and malaria maps and take strong precautions against disease.

Malaria is spread through bites from infected mosquitoes. Naturally the only way to avoid risk altogether is by ensuring you aren’t bitten, even once, but because malaria is prevalent in much of sub-Saharan Africa, malaria tablets are often recommended. The exception would be a quick trip in and out of a place like the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi, where the risk of malaria is very low.

Malaria tablets are not generally available through the NHS but can be obtained either directly from some specialist chemists or with a private prescription. You can also get them from a regulated online chemist after completing an online consultation, which is often the most cost-effective means to obtain the tablets.

Which tablets are recommended for your trip will depend on the country or region you are visiting. The most common medications taken are atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone), chloroquine and/or proguanil, doxycycline and mefloquine (Lariam). Of these, chloroquine and proguanil are available directly through a high-street chemist, without a prescription.

Malaria pills must be taken exactly as prescribed. You may need to start treatment one week to ten days before your trip, and keep taking them a month after your return, although the number of pills necessary will vary for a short trip.

A mosquito resting on a leaf.
Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash

Aside from malaria medication you’ll want to avoid mosquito bites as much as possible.

  • Sleep in an air-conditioned room or one with tight, intact window fittings. If sleeping outside or in an unscreened room, make sure you have a mosquito net treated with insecticide. You can treat the mosquito net with insecticide yourself, so you may want to bring extra repellent for this purpose.
  • Wear long-sleeved tops and long trousers where possible, keeping in mind that mosquitoes are able to bite through thin material.
  • Apply repellent religiously to all exposed areas of the skin, and even beneath your clothing.
  • Apply repellent over your sun cream, and reapply after swimming or sweating. You may want to try several repellents at home to ensure you have one that doesn’t irritate your skin.

Malaria symptoms are similar to the flu; fever, headache, body ache, shivers, vomiting, diarrhoea and possibly delirium. The symptoms can appear up to a year after you come into contact with the disease, meaning it’s important to be aware of it even after you return. If you are travelling in remote areas your doctor may recommend carrying malaria treatment with you.

Although there is as yet no vaccine for the disease, malaria prevention tablets are considered an effective way to stave it off during your travels – as long as they are taken as directed. Before you go, check your destination in Africa and be sure to take all necessary precautions.

Ultimately, taking the right preventative measures can help to protect you from malaria while travelling in Africa. Through a combination of protective clothing and insect repellent on exposed skin, sleeping in air-conditioned or screened rooms with treated mosquito nets, and being aware of your surroundings when outdoors – as well as considering taking antimalarial medication before departure – it is possible to reduce your risk significantly. Malaria remains an ever present threat for those visiting sub-Saharan Africa but by following these precautions you can enjoy a safe trip without worrying about contracting this potentially fatal disease.

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