They say that nearly 40% (about 2.5 billion) people in the world are at risk of contracting Malaria and more than 3 million die every year courtesy of the disease. Today, Malaria is almost catching up with AIDS in terms of its toll on society. But the scary part is that 90% of the world’s Malaria is found in Africa.
In Kenya, Malaria is present in all areas below 2,500 M although recent discoveries show evidence of infection in areas previously thought to be at elevations well-above Malaria infection such as the Kenyan highlands.
The predominant species is Plasmodium falciparum which is the most dangerous of the 4 known species that attack humans. The others are Plasmodium Vivax, Plasmodium Ovale, and Plasmodium Malariae.
Malaria is transmitted by a malaria-infected mosquito when it bites. The Malaria parasite must have grown in the mosquito for a week or more before infection can be passed to another person. The parasites travel to the liver of a bitten person and enter the liver’s cells where they grow and multiply. During this time when the parasites are in the liver, the person has not yet fallen sick.
The parasites then leave the liver and enter the red blood cells (which may be in a couple of days or even several months). Once inside the red blood cells, the parasites grow and multiply. The red blood cells burst, freeing the parasites to attack other red blood cells. Toxins from the parasite are also released into the blood, making the person feel sick.
Symptoms of Malaria are a bit tricky because they often present as a flu with a fever, head and muscle aches, shaking chills and sometimes nausea. Vomiting and diarrhoea may also occur. Malaria is also known to cause anaemia because of the loss of red blood cells.
If you are infected with the P. falciparum strain, seek medical attention urgently or risk a possible kidney failure, seizures, coma and ultimate death. These symptoms will present 10 days to 4 weeks after infection even though in some cases, one may feel ill 8 days to 1 year later.
If you go down with flu or a fever while travelling in the lowlands of Kenya, you had better seek immediate medical attention just to be safe and be sure to tell your doctor that you had travelled in a Malaria-risk area. These 6 tips may come in handy for you before, during and after your travels.
- Visit your doctor 4-6 weeks before foreign travel for any necessary vaccinations and a prescription for an antimalarial drug.
- Take your antimalarial drug at the prescribed time and dose.
- Try to reduce your chances of mosquito bites by purchasing the recommended antimalarial medication, mosquito netting and insect repellent. Insect repellents should ideally contain up to 20-50% DEET and should be applied to any exposed skin. DEET can also be sprayed onto cotton clothing for added protection.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, especially from dusk to dawn. This is the time when mosquitoes that spread malaria bite.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net that has been dipped in permethrin insecticide if you are not living in screened or air-conditioned housing.
- It is essential to complete your course of antimalarials to get full protection. Keep taking them when you get home as prescribed.
If you follow these simple rules, your Kenyan safari will be an enjoyable experience. As they say, a stitch in time saves 9. It is most certainly true for Malaria. Enjoy your Malaria-free Kenyan expedition.