Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasites that enter the body through a mosquito bite. The mosquito is thus the transmitter of the parasite from one human to another. The parasite is a single-celled organism, belonging to the protozoa. It is therefore not a bacterium or virus. In humans, malaria parasites multiply first in the liver and then in red blood cells.
The disease symptoms associated with malaria, such as chills, fever, muscle pain and headache, are caused by the parasites multiplying in the blood. These symptoms are initially indistinguishable from a flu attack. Hence, during or after a holiday in the (sub)tropics, if you feel 'fluish' and have a fever, the first thing you should think about is the possibility of a malaria infection. An infection with malaria parasites can lead to death within weeks if left untreated. There are different forms of malaria in humans, caused by four different species of malaria parasites. The four species that infect humans are: Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium malariae. One should take personal advice on the anti-malaria drugs that are important for your trip. A traveller's destination, length of stay, type of trip, health and age will determine which anti-malaria measures are needed.
Alarm signal: persistent fever of +38° (longer than 24 hours) Headache, diarrhoea, vomiting. Then always consult a doctor on site. Despite their effectiveness and even if malaria prophylaxis against malaria is taken correctly, complete protection is not guaranteed. If fever occurs or persists after you return home, consult your doctor immediately.
Preventing mosquito bites is essential:
- from sunset, wear light-coloured clothes, covering the whole body.
- use insect repellent (containing at least 20% DEET) on all uncovered body parts! These products are effective only for a few hours. Regular application is a necessity.
- protect the room or bed with a mosquito net, preferably impregnated with an insecticide
One cannot be vaccinated against malaria. There is currently no effective vaccine available.