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Malaria a dangerous disease that should not be underestimated

South Africans need to be more aware of the threat posed by malaria, says expert

Friday, April 24 2015

“Many South Africans are not sufficiently aware of the danger malaria poses to their health and too many people are still dying unnecessarily because of it.”

This is according to Dr Danise Theron of Netcare Travel Clinics and Carlswald Medicross Family and Dental Clinic in Midrand. Speaking on the eve of World Malaria Day, 25 April, she said that while South Africa has made major strides towards reducing the incidence of malaria, in certain northern areas of the country the threat remains very real. South Africans who travel to these areas and other countries where malaria is prevalent should therefore take precautions against the disease throughout the year.

“In a recently reported case a Johannesburg man who had visited Mozambique died after contracting malaria. He apparently thought he had simply contracted flu and developed complications from malaria. We need to be more aware of the dangers posed by this illness and should never underestimate it. It is a good idea to seek the advice from your local travel clinic before visiting malaria areas,” suggests Dr Theron.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 198 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2013 and approximately 584 000 people died from the disease, mostly children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Theron says that the risk of malaria in South Africa is highest between September to May, which is considered to be ‘malaria season’. The risk in KwaZulu-Natal is confined to the very far north of the province and is today relatively low. The mosquito-borne disease may also be present in the north-western parts of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Countries such as Mozambique, Malawi, Angola, the DRC, Sudan and Uganda and all the West African countries have particularly high rates of malaria which occur throughout the year and visitors to these regions should be especially vigilant. Seasonal malaria is also found in parts of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

One of the best ways to avoid getting malaria is to avoid getting bitten - especially by the infectious female anopheles mosquito. While mosquitoes are mostly prevalent at certain times of the year they can be highly persistent in their efforts to bite you. It is also worth noting that the malaria-carrying anopheles mosquito is silent and you will therefore not necessarily know that you have been bitten.

There are a number of precautions that can be taken to avoid being bitten. As mosquitoes are most active at dusk it may be wise to stay indoors at that time. Alternatively, be sure to protect yourself properly against mosquitoes by wearing long trousers, long shirtsleeves and socks with your shoes in order to minimise exposed skin that can be bitten. The most effective insect repellents are those containing DEET. It is however imperative to reapply it to exposed areas four hourly. “Where you sleep and stay is another important consideration. Tents and other accommodation should be properly protected with mosquito gauze and treated regularly with insect repellent.

Sleep under repellent treated mosquito nets. A fabric spray for clothes, curtains, bedding and tents, is useful in achieving a mosquito free environment. Electric repellent mats and burning coils may also be effective,” advises Dr Theron.

“While none of the prophylaxis available offer complete protection against malaria on their own, appropriate medications should be taken. Prophylaxis most certainly do provide at least a large measure of protection against malaria and could well save your life, so be sure to take it if it has been recommended by your doctor or travel clinic,” she adds.

It is a myth that prophylaxis does not provide protection against the development of cerebral malaria. It is also untrue that prophylaxis makes diagnosis of malaria more difficult, as is sometimes rumoured.

She advises those who have travelled to a malaria area to keep an eye out for the symptoms of malaria even if they have religiously taken your prophylaxis and other precautions. Although malaria usually presents with flu-like symptoms it can also initially express itself in very many different ways in individuals, for example sometimes it can cause diarrhoea. So be sure to report any health problems to your doctor.

The first symptoms in adults may include the following:

  •     Feelings of weakness, lethargy and dizziness
  •     Fever and sweats
  •     Muscular and/or abdominal pains
  •     Vomiting, diarrhoea

“Malaria symptoms can start from a week to two weeks after you are first bitten. Very occasionally it may even take a few months before it starts to present itself.”

Families wishing to travel to a malaria area should get to their doctor or travel clinic timeously in order to find out which malaria medication or combinations of medication they should be taking. They should then be sure to take their medication as prescribed (be aware that some prophylaxis must be started a week before departure), and, when they are on their journey or holiday, protect themselves from being bitten by every means possible.

“And finally, consult a doctor if you think you may have malaria. Take these precautions and there is little reason why you should not have a wonderful trip with the snapshots to prove it,” concludes Dr Theron.

Fast facts about malaria from The World Health Organization

  •     Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.
  •     A child dies of malaria every 30 seconds.
  •     Malaria is preventable and curable.
  •     Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria, particularly those living in lower-income countries.
  •     Travellers from malaria-free areas to disease ’hot spots’ are especially vulnerable to the disease.
  •     Malaria takes an economic toll - cutting economic growth rates by as much as 1.3% in countries with high disease rates.

 

Ends


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Travel Clinics
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Wilson and Meggan Saville
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: martina@mnapr.co.za, graeme@mnapr.co.za, sarah@mnapr.co.za and meggan@mnapr.co.za

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