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How to protect yourself when traveling in malaria-infested places

By Sally A. Altea


LEGAZPI CITY --- If you’re planning a trip, take precautions against diseases common in the areas you’ll visit. A disease is considered prevalent when it’s constantly present within a particular population or area.


Malaria is one of the most common travel-related diseases. It’s an infectious disease that can be cured and prevented and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes infected with a parasite.


According to Dr. Joan Bonaobra, an infectious disease specialist at the Bicol Regional Health and Medical Center, malaria is caused by a parasite that’s transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes. This is different from dengue or chikungunya, which are caused by viruses.


Beware of flu-like symptoms


Malaria infection, like other mosquito-borne diseases, typically begins with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, and body pains. If you have traveled to areas with endemic malaria, it could indicate the said infection.


To diagnose the particular infection, a check-up is required where the doctor will determine other details including your travel history within the past two weeks in areas with endemic malaria, such as Palawan and Africa.


“The symptoms are the same. The particular infection will only be diagnosed after a check-up in which the doctor will determine other details including travel history at least within two weeks in areas with endemic malaria, such as Palawan and Africa,” Bonaobra explained.


In 2023, the Department of Health (DOH) declared that all provinces nationwide were malaria-free except Palawan.


“If you are bitten today, it doesn’t mean you will have the symptoms tomorrow. For malaria, symptoms may occur from seven to 30 days after travel due to the incubation period,” Bonaobra said.


A female Anopheles mosquito looks like this when it bites you. (Photo source: wikipedia)


Seek immediate treatment


It is crucial to seek immediate consultation and treatment once the symptoms of malaria occur. Although malaria can be fatal, it can be treated and prevented.


Unlike viral diseases such as dengue or chikungunya where supportive treatment like hydration, paracetamol, and monitoring can be given, the absence of drugs can lead to severe forms of malaria or even death. Malaria requires medication to be treated effectively.


Vulnerable patients such as infants, kids below five years old, pregnant women, and those with co-morbidities like diabetes, hypertension, HIV, or cancer may develop severe forms of malaria.


While the drug is highly effective when taken immediately, a delay in treatment can lead to a poor prognosis, especially when the infection reaches the brain and causes cerebral malaria. Prognosis refers to the predicted or probable level of improvement in function.


“The drug is very effective especially when immediately taken but when there is a delay in treatment, no matter how good the drug is, or when it already led to cerebral malaria or when the infection reached the brain, prognosis may not be that good,” she said.


Malaria drugs are widely available in government institutions, such as DOH pharmacies. Doctors will provide prescriptions and medical abstracts for patients to obtain the drug.


Prevent mosquito bites


Bonaobra said mosquitoes that transmit malaria are active at night, and are usually found in rural and mountainous areas.


Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and pants to prevent mosquito bites, apply insect repellants with DEET as needed, or use treated clothing, bedding, or netting.


Bonaobra also emphasized that sanitation is the basic prevention not only against malaria but other diseases as well. Stagnant water is a common breeding site for mosquitoes.


“Wherever you are, cleanliness is the bottom line. Remove stagnant water to prevent malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases,” she said. (PIA5/Albay)

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