With holidays once more just around the corner and large numbers of people travelling to malaria areas, it is critical for South Africans to become more aware of this potentially life threatening disease and learn how to protect themselves against it.
According to Dr Pete Vincent of Netcare Travel Clinics and Tokai Medicross Family and Dental Clinic, many South Africans are not aware just how much of a danger malaria can pose. Dr Vincent was speaking on SADC Malaria Day, 8 November.
Dr Anchen Laubscher, Medical Director of Netcare, noted that a total of 557 people with malaria had been admitted to Netcare hospitals throughout the country between October 2012 and October 2013. She pointed out that these figures did not include patients treated in public sector facilities or in other private hospitals and that the total could therefore be considerably higher. “Interestingly, the number of malaria cases at Netcare hospitals peaked at 101 in January 2013, when people returned home from holiday,” she observes.
“There are families who visit places such as the northern parts of South Africa or other countries in southern Africa such as Mozambique over the festive season and they should be particularly careful to protect themselves,” adds Dr Vincent. “Some of these regions have experienced good rains fairly early in the season and consequently have large numbers of malaria-carrying mosquitos present. Be aware that children under the age of five and pregnant women should avoid malaria areas altogether.”
Some individuals travel home over the festive season after having lived and worked in non-malaria areas such as Johannesburg for long periods of time. They lose their passive-immunity to the illness and end up contracting it, warns Dr Vincent. He explains that it takes 6-12 months of living in a non-malaria area for people to lose their passive-immunity. Those who intend heading home after such an extended stay should therefore visit their travel clinic prior to travelling, to see whether they should take prophylaxis.
Countries such as Mozambique, Malawi, the DRC, Sudan and Uganda have high rates of malaria and individuals travelling to these countries should be particularly vigilant. The disease is also found in parts of Zimbabwe and Botswana, and northern Angola and Namibia. Dr Vincent says it is also very prevalent in West African countries such as Nigeria. “We are at present seeing quite large numbers of returning Nigerian workers with malaria. Many people are not taking the threat seriously enough,” he observes. In South Africa malaria now only remains endemic in Venda. However, anyone who intends visiting Mpumalanga or Limpopo during the local malaria season, which is from September to April, should visit their local travel clinic to see what precautions they should take against the disease.
Keep an eye out for the symptoms of malaria even if you think you were not bitten by any mosquitoes on your trip and have religiously taken your prophylaxis, advises Dr Vincent. Although malaria usually presents with flu-like symptoms it can also initially express itself in many different ways in different people. So be sure to report any and all health problems to your doctor. The first symptoms in adults may include the following: Feelings of weakness, lethargy and dizzinessFever and sweatsMuscular and/or abdominal painsVomiting, diarrhea The symptoms of the disease can appear a week to two weeks after you are first bitten by a malaria-carrying mosquito. Very occasionally it may even take a few months before the illness shows symptoms. Dr Vincent therefore advises those who have been in malaria areas to remain vigilant even if they have been home for some time. If you suffer any of the symptoms be sure to have a blood test to confirm or rule out malaria.
Dr Vincent says prophylaxis play a very important role in the fight against malaria, but do not necessarily afford complete protection. A multiple-pronged approach to the prevention of the disease is therefore necessary. “Do everything possible to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes while also taking your prophylaxis if your doctor or travel clinic has prescribed them,” he advises. “Using repellents and sleeping under a mosquito net can also help a great deal. A DEET based repellent keeps mosquitos at bay for 300 minutes while citronella repellent needs to be re-applied every 20 minutes. Be cautious about gimmicky products claiming to offer protection against mosquito bites.
Dr Vincent says that while prophylaxis not always completely prevents malaria it does tend to considerably reduce the severity of the illness and can be lifesaving. Travellers to malaria areas should therefore be sure to take prophylaxis if these have been prescribed to them by their doctor or travel clinic.
Dr Vincent says much progress has been made in reducing the malaria threat in the northern parts of South Africa through the use of spraying and other measures. “The new vaccine for children, which has been successfully trialed and is under development, is also an exciting step forward in the fight against the disease. However, the threat remains very real and should never be underestimated.”
Issued by : Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Travel Clinics
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Sarah Beswick
Telephone : (011) 469 3016
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