Be travel smart: How to safeguard against malaria

Three easy tips to protect yourself against malaria.

Rachel Harper - 27 September 2018

When you're bit by a mosquito in Canada, the only symptoms people usually worry about are an unsightly bump, an annoying itch, swelling, or in some cases, an allergic reaction. But, in tropical or subtropical climates, a mosquito bite could result in a potentially life-threatening disease: malaria.

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito.

In 2016, there was an estimated 216 million cases of malaria worldwide and, of those, 445,000 resulted in death.

The disease occurs in almost 100 countries and territories, with most cases and deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. This puts about 3.8 billion people-or half the world's population-at risk for contracting malaria.

Malaria is preventable and curable, and yet, it remains a major killer of children under five years old-taking the life of a child every two minutes. It is a very real disease that you need to be aware of if travelling to a country that has cases of ongoing malaria transmission.

Stephanie Yanow, associate professor, gives tips on how to prevent malaria during travel to countries where people are at risk of infection.

Be aware and do your research.

A warm climate does not necessarily mean that country is a hotbed for malaria. Some countries that have warm climates have successfully eliminated the disease. Others, pose little or no risk because the Anopheles mosquito that carries malaria is not found in those countries.

"At the same time, travelers should not dismiss the risk of malaria when they travel to an all-inclusive resort," explains Yanow. "While the risk of being bitten by a mosquito during the night in sealed, air-conditioned rooms will be minimal, travelers can be bitten during evening, outdoor activities."

Visit your health care provider or a travel health clinic at least six weeks before travel.

Once you've researched the country you're visiting and have identified that you could be at risk of contracting malaria, talk to your health care provider or visit a travel health clinic.

"There are various kinds of anti-malarial drugs," says Yanow. "A medical professional can tell you which anti-malarial drug is appropriate for you and the country you are visiting."

Protect yourself from mosquito bites.

It's important to note that no anti-malarial drug is 100 per cent effective, so you must take your own precautions when visiting a country with malaria transmission.

There are four easy ways you can protect yourself from mosquito bites:

1. Cover up

Wear appropriate clothing like long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid bug bites. Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks or boots, and wear loose fitting and light-coloured clothing. Don't forget a hat! Canada now has permethrin-treated clothing which offers greater protection that you can purchase.

"The mosquitoes that transmit malaria usually bite at dusk and during the night," says Yanow. "So it is especially important to cover up during these times."

2. Spray, reapply, spray, reapply

Spray insect repellent on any exposed skin making sure to avoid cuts, abrasions, irritated skin, lips and eyes. Insect repellents containing DEET or Icaridin are the most effective to keep mosquitos at bay, and remember to reapply repellent when required.

3. Home is where prevention is

When you're looking for accommodation, try to stay in a well-screened or completely enclosed air-conditioned room. Avoid staying in poorly constructed units where bugs can easily enter through cracks, open windows or doors, or roofs.

4. Spread the net

Sleep under a permethrin-treated bed net when you're turning in for the night. Make sure that your net has no tears or rips, and tuck it under the mattress so there is no open gaps or spaces. Additionally, make sure there is enough space between you and the net as mosquitos can bite through the mesh.

"It is handy to bring along a small sewing kit to stich up any holes in your net," advises Yanow.


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