Clinical Signs & Symptoms
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What Is Malaria?
Malaria is an infection that causes high fevers and chills. It's spread by a type of mosquito that feeds at night. The mosquito carries a parasite that causes malaria. If this mosquito bites you, the parasite can get into your blood. The parasite lays eggs, which develop into more parasites, and they feed on your blood cells until you get very sick. Some people die from malaria.
Where is malaria most common?
Malaria is a health problem in many tropical countries. It's also a problem for people visiting these countries. Your chance of getting malaria is highest when you travel in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, African countries south of the Sahara Desert and some remote places in southeast Asia. Your chance of getting malaria is a little lower in the Caribbean, in the areas around the Amazon River in South America, in India and in some rural areas of Central America. In many countries in Asia and South America, malaria is only in the countryside. If you travel to these countries, you may not need to take malaria medicine if you stay in the malaria-free big cities or take only day trips outside the cities.
How can I protect myself from getting malaria?
You should do whatever you can to keep from getting mosquito bites. If you can, sleep in a room with screens on the windows and doors. Use a mosquito net over your bed. If possible, spray the net with permethrin (one brand name: Elimite). (Permethrin is a spray that repels mosquitos.) During the evening, wear light-colored clothes with long sleeves. It's important to protect yourself with a bug repellant spray that contains no more than 35% of a chemical called "deet." Try not to go outside after the sun sets.
What medicines can I take to prevent malaria?
If you plan to travel to a country where malaria is common, you'll probably take a medicine that may keep you from getting malaria. This is called "prophylactic" malaria medicine. Remember, however, no medicine can protect you 100%.
Prophylactic malaria medicines require you to start taking the medicine a few days or a week before you leave on your trip. You keep taking the medicine during your trip and after your trip for about 1 to 4 weeks, depending on which medicine you are taking. It's important to keep taking the medicine after your trip because the malaria parasites could still be in your blood. Stopping the medicine too soon could give the parasites an opportunity to grow and make you sick. These medicines have some side effects, and not everyone can take them. Your doctor can tell you which medicine is right for you.
If you're traveling to parts of Central America, Haiti or the Middle East, speak to your doctor, he or she would be able to tell you which medicine is right for you.
International Travel: Tips for Staying Healthy
Here are some tips to help you stay healthy when you travel
to other countries:
See your doctor at least 6 weeks before you leave. Some vaccines don't reach the highest protection until about 6 weeks after you get the shots.
Have medical and dental check-ups before your trip, to be aware of problems and to find out about medicines you might want to take along.
Find out what your health insurance will pay for if you see a doctor while you're in another country. Carry enough of your regular medicines in their original containers, along with extra prescriptions for them. Also bring your eyewear prescriptions. Wear a medical information bracelet if needed. Take along a first-aid kit (see suggestions below).
Vaccines you might get
Your doctor will review the plans for your trip and decide if you need any vaccines. The vaccines you got when you were a child also may need to be updated if you are not fully protected. Vaccines that may be needed to protect you include the following:
Hepatitis A or hepatitis A immune globulin
Influenza (the flu)
Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids