Many of our travellers have an understandable concern regarding the risk of contracting malaria while on safari. The reality of malaria is indeed worrying – over one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children under five years of age, with 90 per cent of malaria cases occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 300-600 million people suffer from malaria each year. More than 40 percent of the world’s population lives in malaria-risk areas.
First and foremost, it’s important to note that just because you have been bitten by a mosquito doesn’t automatically translate to you catching malaria. Only certain species of mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus—and only females of those species—can transmit malaria. Malaria is caused by a one-celled parasite called a Plasmodium. The female Anopheles mosquito picks up the parasite when it bites infected people to obtain blood needed to nurture its eggs. It then transmits the disease when it bites the next person. The parasite usually incubates within the infected person’s body for 9-14 days (but it can be shorter or longer) before any visible signs/effects take place, such as high fever, chills and body aches. Consider where you will be at this time with regards to access to medical assistance.
There is currently no vaccination against malaria. Should you wish to take a course of anti-malarial medication (termed prophylaxis), ensure you start the course before arriving in Southern Africa so that you can make sure there are no side-effects. Some of the older anti-malarial medication can result in side effects, such as Doxycycline (skin photosensitivity) and Larium (headaches, strong dreams). Most travellers seem to take Malarone nowadays, though this can still have side effects such as nausea and headaches. Some travellers do not take any anti-malarial medication but choose rather to bring some Artemesinin-based treatment to use once malaria is presumed or diagnosed.
Prevention is the key. Malarial mosquitos bite at night, so by dusk you should be covered up – clothing-wise and repellent-wise. Wear lightly-coloured long sleeves and trousers. The most effective repellents still seem to include DEET, whether it be for your skin or clothing. Some travellers prefer to use a non-toxic citronella- or picaridin-based repellent. When staying in a malaria-risk area, it also helps if your bed is covered by a mosquito net and/or there is gauze on the windows and door of your room. Sometimes precautions can’t protect you entirely. That’s when it becomes important to diagnose malaria as early as possible. If you get ill with flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, chills, joint and muscle pains up to three months after returning from a malaria area, be sure to mention this to your health care provider.
While there is no denying that malaria is prevalent in the safari regions you will visit, you would be most unlucky to contract it during your relatively short stay. For most visitors to the region, the usual precautions of covering up from dusk to dawn and using insect repellent are sufficient. However this is merely our personal opinion taken from over 22 years’ experience of travelling and guiding in sub-Saharan Africa. We do not pertain to be medical experts and encourage you to consult a professional before deciding on what, if any course of action you choose.