A finding from the CDC’s monthly issue for November titled, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, revealed a startling fact. Malaria is on the rise in the US and experts in the field are pointing to lax steps Americans are taking during travel. In 2011 over 1,900 cases were reported to the CDC, resulting in a 40-year high since 1971. Understanding Malaria, especially for travelers is a mandatory review. This article will detail the symptoms and steps of prevention to avoid this parasitic disease from killing someone.
What is Malaria?
Malaria transmits to humans from the anopheles mosquito. The sordid tale of transmission began in the late 1800’s when scientists needed to combat the theory behind this crippling condition. Female mosquitoes require blood to fertilize her eggs and none other is more fruitful than that from a human. As the mosquito bites, a parasite called plasmodium is dispensed into its host and symptoms can begin. Sadly, in 2010 the World Health Organization (WHO) attributed over 600,000 world-wide deaths from malaria, a majority of the deaths were African children.
Understanding the symptoms and preventable steps can avoid this troubling bite from providing a deadly infection. Malaria is not only preventable, it is curable – the symptoms would have to be detected early for immediate treatment. Once prevention methods and cures were introduced, the drop in Malaria began. For travelers in the US who travel overseas to remote countries, understanding the necessary steps to take can save a life.
Symptoms of Malaria
There is more than one parasite for Malaria. The most common is plasmodium, in addition there is vivax, ovale, malariae and knowlesi. Each incubation period can vary based on the parasite attacked with. Vivax and ovale have shown extended illness rates – 10 month periods after getting bit, patients have reported symptoms relaying to Malaria. The most common symptoms are typically reported within nine to 14 days from the bite:
- Sudden fever.
- Excessive chills.
- Cold sweat or excessive sweating.
- Fatigue greater than normal.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Unproductive (dry) cough.
- Body aches.
While these symptoms can relay to numerous signals like the common cold, travelers who arrived back from a foreign country should visit their doctor immediately. The CDC warns the symptoms can also arrive in stages for individuals:
- Stage 1 – coldness resulting in shivers and the inability to stay warm.
- Stage 2 – the cold reverts to feeling excessively heated, resulting in headaches, fever and vomiting. Small children may experience seizures.
- Stage 3 – fatigue coupled with sweating, the body temperature may start to lower.
To avoid more severe symptoms such as an enlarged spleen, severe anemia, deafness, loss of sight, trouble moving or speaking clearly, hypoglycemia and breathing difficulties – it is imperatives individuals seek immediate medical attention. Pregnant women, children and senior citizens who recently visited a location with possible malaria should be seen if any one symptom occurs.
Understanding the environment one will be in is imperative to prevention. The CDC has a Malaria Map Application. This web-based tool allows travelers to determine if transmission of malaria is present in their visiting country. Adults and children traveling out of country should speak to their primary care doctors four to six weeks before travel. The doctor can prescribe an antimalarial drug that will prevent the ill side effects of a bite. There are also measures individuals should take along with the drug:
- Mosquitoes who carry the infection are more likely to strike during overnight hours. It is highly recommended to stay indoors from dusk until dawn.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and a hat to protect the ears and head.
- For parts of the face exposed, hands or other exposed areas, apply an insect repellent, the CDC recommends permethrin or DEET.
- If traveling with children, it is highly suggested to purchase bed nets sprayed with an insect repellent to avoid being bit overnight.
- Understand body signals. If an individual has traveled to another country within the past few months and starts getting terribly ill, seek a doctor immediately and advise of the travel for proper care and follow-up.
While antimalarial drugs are available, there is not a vaccine yet for malaria, so taking the precautions necessary to avoid infection can save a life. Become familiar with local doctors or seek out doctors familiar with the area of travel.
Malaria is on the rise in the US. Understanding precautions, symptoms and prevention helps when it comes to encountering this potential deadly disease. Medical experts suggest the rise can be attributed to a lack of oversight for travelers. Understanding travel plans and itinerary long before the trip can prevent issues later. Malaria is not a contagious disease but if not properly treated can lead to severe illnesses and even death. Avoid becoming one of the 1,500 diagnosed annually by seeking out a doctor and planning a future trip with the right tools in place.
Written by Angelina Bouc
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