Female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles spread malaria-causing parasites to people, and the parasites take up residence in your liver. You may show no symptoms of malaria for days, months, or even a year, but the parasite will eventually invade your red blood cells. The cells then rupture, allowing the malaria parasite to invade other red blood cells.
As the red blood cells burst, they release chemicals that cause high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. Some people might end up with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and jaundice. P. falciparum triggers what is considered the most severe manifestation of the disease, which includes seizures, coma, and kidney failure.
If you start having flulike symptoms after visiting a high-risk malaria area, see your physician as soon as possible. Although malaria can be quite dangerous if left untreated, it can be taken care of with prescription drugs. Most people recover fully with treatment and experience no complications.
Any of four single-celled parasites, Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale, and Plasmodium malariae, can cause malaria, a disease of the blood.
Who's at Risk?
Malaria is a serious threat around the globe. According to the World Health Organization, between 350 million and 500 million people acquire malaria every year. The vast majority of these cases happen in the high-risk areas of Central America, South America, Africa, India, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Hispaniola (the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Oceania (the large region of islands that includes Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea). Young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to have the worst problems with malaria.
Some antimalarial drugs kill the malaria parasite while others prevent you from being infected in the first place. If you're traveling to a high-risk area, see your physician four to six weeks before your scheduled departure to get a prescription for antimalarial drugs (and other vaccinations). These drugs work best if you take them on a precise schedule and don't miss any doses.
As with any mosquitoborne disease, your best protection bet is to avoid the critters that carry the infection -- in this case, the night-feeding Anopheles mosquitoes. Follow the tips in the dengue profile in this chapter to avoid meeting one of these insects.
One of the more common infections that affect travelers in a foreign land and climate is traveler's diarrhea. Learn more about this affliction in the next section.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.