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True Stories From The Disease Files

An unexpected travel souvenir:  malaria

Recommendations for travelers going to other countries where disease risks may differ from those in the United States are available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website listed at the end of this story. 

One gentleman who had made several missionary and medical trips overseas over the last two decades decided to use a malaria prevention medication that is not recommended by the CDC.  A website which caught his eye advertised a homeopathic product with claims that it was effective in preventing and treating malaria.  The FDA does not regulate homeopathic medications, so their effectiveness has not been scientifically proven.  

He obtained the product, and used it as recommended.  Soon after his return to the United States, he started experiencing flu-like symptoms and chills, and thought he might have the flu.  He increased his dosage as the product instructions indicated for treatment of malaria.  He became more ill and began to develop a rash.  A family member insisted that he seek medical care, which probably saved his life because he spent several days in the hospital, and his family was warned that he might not survive.  After several days, he did improve and was released from the hospital.  He missed a few weeks of work, and it took several months before he recovered to his previous level of health.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodia.  The disease is transmitted to people by the Anopheles mosquito.  Malaria is currently a problem in tropical or subtropical areas of Asia, Africa and Central and South America.

Symptoms of malaria include fever, shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness.  Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur.  Cycles of these symptoms generally occur every three days for P. vivax, P. falciparum, and P. ovale.  With P. malariae, symptoms generally cycle every four days.  Malaria may cause anemia and yellowing of the skin and eyes due to loss of red blood cells.  If untreated, P. falciparum may cause kidney or liver failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and sometimes death.  

Prevention activities while traveling in countries where malaria is endemic include regular application of mosquito repellent on skin and clothing, use of mosquito nets in sleeping facilities, and adhering to the recommended malaria prevention medication regimen.  The mosquitoes that spread malaria are most active in the early morning before sunrise and in the evening before sunset.  If outdoor activities are planned, it is important to wear a mosquito repellent with an active ingredient, such as DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or picaridin (KBR 3023) that is proven to repel the mosquitoes that transmit malaria.  Many experts believe that DEET is the best active ingredient to prevent mosquito bites from Anopheles mosquitoes since it is known to provide long-lasting protection. 

Please visit the following links for more information regarding malaria:

Malaria Fact Sheets and Information:

Malaria Fact Sheet (34k.pdf)

External Malaria Resources:

Malaria (CDC)
A Cautionary Tale: The Risks of Unproven "Antimalarials" (CDC)
Travel Health (CDC)

Malaria Surveillance Data and Statistics:

Malaria 2011 Surveillance Summary (280k.pdf)

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