Malaria is a serious disease that affects around 200 to 300 million people annually. It is found in tropical and sub-tropical climates such as Southern Asia, Africa, South America and Central America. It is most widespread in the south of Africa – over 90% of cases occur there – largely due to the prevalence of the principle proponent of the disease, the Anopheles mosquito, and to conditions of poverty. Most places in the northern hemisphere are free from malaria; however, travellers to other parts of the world are at risk to the disease, and, if left untreated, it can lead to very serious conditions such as kidney failure, seizures, comas and even death.
How to spot malaria
Malaria is most often contracted by being bitten by a mosquito carrying the disease, normally whilst abroad in countries at risk from the disease. It normally manifests itself within 6 days to 4 weeks of being bitten, though on occasion it can take up for 1 year for a person to feel its effects. The most common signs on malaria are:
– Cold chills and sweats
– Headaches and migraines
– Muscular and abdominal pain
– Lack of energy
– Excessive coughing
Unfortunately, these signs are common to a lot of ailments and illnesses, thus making them harder to diagnose as malaria. This is especially difficult if you live in a zone not at risk from the disease as your doctor will be less suspicious of the possibility of its infection and also less knowledgeable or practiced at diagnosing it.
One common sign that an ailment is symptomatic of malaria is a cyclical nature. Malaria parasites have a determined life cycle of developing, reproducing and releasing into the blood stream, which will result in an ebb-and-flow of symptoms. If your symptoms appear to abate for a period, only to come back anew repeatedly, it could be a sign you have contracted malaria.
The best course of action if you suspect you have contracted malaria is to inform your doctor or health care professional of any trips to high-risk areas you may have recently made. They can then factor this as a possibility into their diagnosis. The presence of malarial bacteria can be determined from a blood sample.
How to combat malaria
Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine against malaria. The best form of treating malaria is prevention, and there are a number of different types of medication aimed at this. Which one is right for you will depend on your physical constitution, as well as the duration and destination of your trip. Be sure to discuss the possible courses of action with your health-care provider before embarking on the trip. In addition, you can minimise the risk of contracting malaria simply by avoiding being bitten by mosquitoes. This can be achieved by using mosquito repellent, mosquito nets and covering up bare skin with long-sleeved shirts and trousers.
Unfortunately there is no sure-fire way to avoid malaria, even if you take medication. In fact, medication does not actually prevent the disease from being contracted but rather makes sure your body is well equipped to combat the disease in the event of contraction. Therefore, although taking all of the precautions outlined above will make the chances of you being exposed to the disease very slim, its avoidance can be never 100% guaranteed. As a result, it is imperative you seek medical attention immediately upon suspecting that you may have the disease. An early diagnosis will lead to less invasive treatment and a higher likelihood of vanquishing the disease.
To book an appointment today with a GP please call Broadgate GP on 020 7638 4330 – Same day appointments available.