Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Malaria 101 for Travelers

April 25, 2012

The first time I seriously thought about malaria was when I booked a mountain biking trip in the Thailand section of the Golden Triangle several years ago. Planning the trip was exciting. The list of health precautions I’d have to deal with before I left? Not so exciting.

When friends learned I was going to Thailand, everyone talked about how scary the anti-malaria drugs were – they had nightmares and visions from the drugs.  This was not what I was looking for in a vacation.

Someone even suggested that she would rather get malaria than take the drugs again. Clearly this friend didn’t know what she was talking about. Malaria can cause breathing problems, organ failure, brain damage, and even death. What are a few nightmares comparatively?

But the fact of the matter is that there are much better malaria drugs on the market that don’t cause nightmares and visions, and if you’re traveling in a malarial area, you should take the medicine and take measures to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes such as using bug repellants and bed nets.

So what exactly is malaria and why should you care?

Malaria is a blood disease caused by a parasite that gets transmitted from person to person through mosquitos bites.  When a malaria-infected mosquito bites a person, these parasites go into liver cells, where they multiply, break out and infect red blood cells.  It’s the infection in the blood that causes people to be sick.

Symptoms can include fever, chills, headache, sweats, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, muscle and back pain, and an enlarged spleen.  If left untreated, malaria can kill. In fact, someone dies from malaria every single minute.

Luckily we don’t catch malaria in the US and Europe any more, but it can be found in many tropical places around the globe.  Depending on where you are traveling, you may come in contact with malaria carrying mosquitoes. 

Yes, treatment can cure you, but the best way to avoid malaria complications is to not get malaria in the first place.  (The same thing applies to people living in areas where there is malaria; not just to travelers.)

Make sure and protect yourself against malaria if you're traveling to a region where you can contract it. The first thing you should do when traveling to an area that has malaria is make an appointment with a travel clinic four to six weeks before you travel.

The CDC has a wealth of information on their website that you can access while planning your trip:

Find a travel clinic near you:

Learn more about the disease:

There is tremendous progress being made in the fight against malaria. Learn more!

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