Malaria is one of the most common and deadly public health crises facing the world today. Infections are caused by the plasmodium parasite, which is transmitted between human hosts by blood-drinking mosquitos. While cases have declined dramatically over the past ten years, it is still a very real threat to travelers visiting Sub-Saharan Africa, along with parts of Asia and South America. So how is malaria prevented and what can you do to stay safe while traveling? Read on to learn the best ways to prevent malaria as you travel the world.
7 Ways to Prevent Malaria While Traveling Abroad
Nearly half of the world’s population lives in an area where malaria is present, generally around the equator. Six countries are responsible for half of the cases (Nigeria, Niger, the Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). However, in regions where the parasite is endemic, there are things you can do that drastically reduce your chances of contracting the disease. These are the top ways to prevent malaria during your next adventure:
1. Avoid Travel During the Rainy Season
Sometimes the best malaria prevention is also the simplest. Mosquitoes need standing water to reproduce, so it makes sense that you should book your travels during the dry season when mosquitos are less prevalent. That’s not to say there are no mosquitoes outside of the rainy season, but higher temperatures and fewer puddles to breed in make them considerably less active. You will also enjoy more pleasant weather in tropical areas during the “dry season”.
2. Wear Long Sleeves and Pants
The next best option for preventing malaria in travelers is simply covering up any exposed skin. Mosquitoes can bite through tight, thin fabrics, so you’ll want to wear something looser. This is also a good way to protect your skin from the sun. Choose light colored clothing as mosquitos and other insects are actually attracted to dark colors like black or navy blue.
3. Sleep Under a Mosquito Net
Free or low-cost bed nets have been one of the most effective methods for preventing the spread of malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa over the past fifteen years. However, travelers can also benefit from them and most hotels provide them in malaria-endemic regions.
Some travel websites suggest packing a mosquito net, but this is rarely necessary, and most hotels for tourists have well-fitted screens on the windows to prevent the insects from getting inside in the first place. Another option is to book a hotel with air conditioning, as these rooms will be better sealed to keep the cold air inside and the mosquitos out.
4. Pack an Insect Repellent Containing DEET
While there are dozens of different insect repellents available, many of them formulated with “natural ingredients”, only those containing DEET or Picaridin provide effective protection against malaria-carrying mosquitos. DEET inhibits the mosquito’s ability to sniff out and attack areas of exposed skin.
Insect repellents containing DEET have been around for over 75 years and are considered safe when used as directed. Make sure you choose a repellent with 20% to 50% DEET concentration. A long acting formulation like Ultrathon® is even better.
5. Treat Your Clothes and Gear with Permethrin
DEET is the best repellent to apply to your skin because it’s relatively non-toxic. However, you can make yourself even less attractive to those pesky mosquitos by treating your clothes with a permethrin solution. The chemical bonds to the fibers of your clothes and lasts for several weeks and through several washings, depending on the concentration.
Unlike DEET, mosquitos are killed on contact with permethrin. The chemical is non-toxic but can be a mild skin irritant if you apply it to your skin instead of your clothes.
6. Apply Sunscreen First, Then Repellent
Always apply sunscreen liberally, but wait at least 30 minutes for it to absorb into your skin before applying insect repellent. Sunscreen and insect repellent can interact with each other and become less effective if applied at the same time.
7. Take Antimalarials
A number of malaria prevention medications for travel have been devised over the past few decades. Each has pros and cons, so it’s best to visit a travel specialist who can determine which prophylactics are right for your trip. Some malaria medications are taken every day, while others are once a week. Possible side effects vary widely, from UV sensitivity, to vivid dreams, to liver damage. No matter which type of malaria prophylaxis you take, it’s critical that you follow the drug’s instructions for dosage and timing.
The Bottom Line: How Do You Prevent Malaria?
You can prevent the spread of malaria by limiting your contact with the mosquitos carrying the parasite. This can be done through physical barriers including clothing and insect repellent, pharmaceuticals that interrupt the parasite’s life cycle, or by traveling when the mosquitos are less active. Malaria is present in dozens of countries around the world, but most cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa where there has been little funding for preventive measures such as draining swamps and spraying insecticides. As these measures become more widespread, along with the recently developed vaccine, malaria cases are expected to decrease considerably.
As you prepare for your next trip, it’s always important to be fully aware of your current health status. An appointment with TravelBug Health is an excellent way to ensure you are healthy and ready for a long adventure. We are a full-service travel clinic that offers vaccinations, prescriptions, and pre-travel medical advice to keep you in top shape as you explore the world.
Schedule an appointment with our professionals today and keep yourself and your travel companions healthy.