Malaria is a mosquito borne parasitic illness that is serious and sometimes even fatal. In the United States, about 1,500 cases of malaria are reported every year. Most of those cases involve patients who have recently traveled. While the disease is not prevalent in the US, there are many cases of the disease in tropical and subtropical locations. Approximately 90% of all malaria related deaths were reported in Africa. Of all of the deaths caused by malaria worldwide, 87% were children.
Malaria is introduced into the blood by a mosquito, where it then travels to the liver and begins to incubate. The incubation period varies from 7 to 30 days. Symptoms range from very mild to very severe. Malaria can be categorized as uncomplicated or severe. It is fully curable if it is treated properly.
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Uncomplicated malaria symptoms include hot and cold flashes, vomiting, severe headache, and sweating. Severe cases lead to abnormal behavior, seizures, coma, neurological anomalies, low blood pressure, anemia, excess acid in the blood, kidney failure, hypoglycemia, blood in the urine, and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Severe malaria is a medical emergency and should be treated with the utmost urgency.
Once malaria has been contracted, there can be ongoing attacks for weeks or even months after the initial infections. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease. However, several medications have been developed that can help prevent malaria. If the disease is contracted, it may be treated with quinine or a number of other similar medications. Some of the medications used to actually treat malaria can also help prevent an infection from occurring. It is especially important to take preventative courses of anti-malarial drugs before traveling to affected areas.
Malaria may be prevented in several ways. Local mosquito eradication, insect repellents, mosquito nets and protective clothing are excellent ways to help prevent getting a bite from an infected mosquito. Use common sense while traveling and stay away from infected areas or use proper protection.
At least two weeks prior to traveling and four weeks after leaving your travel destination and returning home, you should take your anti-malarial medications. Drugs vary: some may require a daily dose, while others a weekly dose. Not all medication types are effective against malaria, as there are different strains. Only a qualified travel physician can accurately prescribe the proper anti-malarial drugs. If you plan on traveling to an affected area, go to a travel specialist.
Malaria prevention drugs are not effective for long-term use. if you plan on extended travel or living abroad in an affected area, speak with your doctor about how you can prevent contracting the disease. It is very possible to fully recover from an infection. However, more severe cases can progress very quickly and can cause death within days or even hours. Fatality rates in severe cases are 20%.
In 2010 it was estimated that approximately 2000 deaths per day were caused by malaria. 65% of these cases were children below the age of 16. With proper medical care, these deaths could be prevented. If left untreated, the disease can lead to epilepsy, certain behavior disorders and reduced cognitive skills.
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Traveling outside of USA and concerned about your health? Travel vaccinations are recommended for many destinations. Find out about the requirements and talk to a physician.
It is important to take anti-malarial drugs if you are traveling to an area affected by malaria. To make an appointment with a doctor specializing in travel medicine, contact us today!