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Adventure Travel and Malaria

 

If your travels take you anywhere near a tropical or sub-tropical climate, odds are you should be thinking about Malaria.  It’s one of the unavoidable concerns of almost all adventure travelers. If you are leaving Europe, North America or Australia for somewhere else, it’s at least worth a visit to the CDC website, where you’ll probably be surprised to learn that the disease is a concern in places you wouldn’t expect, like Turkey.

If you’re traveling through a rural area almost anywhere in the underdeveloped or developing world, chances are you’ll pass through a Malaria-endemic zone.  So the question facing most travelers is: what to do about it?

During travels in Cambodia, where there’s a high Malaria risk, I was shocked by how many European travelers chose not to do anything at all about Malaria prevention. There’s probably few western societies where scare tactics work as well as they do here in the states, but in the case of Malaria, I have to say the concerns seem justified. I’ve heard tales of woe and suffering from the disease from both close friends and relatives that contracted the mosquito-borne virus while overseas.

The problem is that not all anti-malarial drugs are effective against all strains of the virus, so in certain areas you may be forced to take a prophalaxysis with some pretty nasty side affects. Mefloquine in particular has been known to cause some pretty disturbing nightmares and hallucinations in travelers to Asia. Many travelers prefer to stay vigilant against getting bitten as their only method of prevention. That’s fine enough, but having spent many a summer near the mosquito infested waters of Florida and Interior Alaska, I know that the attention to detail required to successfully avoid all bites could easily ruin your trip.  For a six-month trip to Asia, I opted to take doxycycline, an anti-malarial with fewer side effects that must be taken daily (Mefloquine is weekly).

For our current trip to Central America, we tried to procure a homeopathic anti-malarial from Australia that is not otherwise available in the US, but it didn’t arrive in time. The jury also seems to be out on the effectiveness of such ‘natural’ drugs, as the CDC will tell you quite vigorously. In the end, we got a prescription for Chloroquine, a newer anti-malarial with little or no side-affects that is effective in Central America. 

The good news is that malaria-carrying mosquitoes only come out at dawn and dusk. The bad news is that Central America is also endemic for Dengue fever, which is carried in another breed of mosquitoes that only comes out during the day. Hopefully the Chloroquine and DEET will pack an effective 1 – 2 punch! Oh, and don’t leave home without the mosquito net!