Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the highest malaria rates in the world, and even within our borders, the health risks posed by this mosquito-borne illness cannot be taken lightly, especially for those at risk of more severe illness.
“As many people are planning their summer holidays, it is important to think ahead to prevent the dangers of malaria when travelling in South Africa, particularly at this time of year,” says pharmacist Joy Steenkamp of Medipost Pharmacy.
The mosquito may be tiny, but it is regarded as the world’s deadliest animal because it can transmit illnesses to humans, including malaria, which kills an estimated 400,000 people globally per year.
What is malaria?
“Malaria is an infection caused by the tiny Plasmodium parasite, which can be transmitted to humans if they are bitten by a parasite-infected female mosquito. Although malaria is often a mild illness with non-specific symptoms such as fever, headache, and upset stomach, it can progress to become a severe illness that may even be fatal. In some cases, malaria complications can leave the person with lasting health problems even after they have recovered from the illness,” she says.
Who is at risk?
“There are several high-risk areas within South Africa. If you are travelling to certain parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, taking measures to prevent malaria may be necessary. Medicines for prevention are known as chemoprophylaxis and are even more important in summer between September and May when malaria tends to be more prevalent,” Steenkamp says.
“Pregnant women, children under the age of five, and people who are HIV positive may be at increased risk for malaria and should be particularly cautious when visiting malaria areas,” she says.
“In malaria-endemic areas, strategic prevention strategies, such as insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), are used. Two malaria vaccines have recently been recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for use in children. Although these vaccines are licensed within some African countries where malaria poses a major threat to public health, it is not yet available in South Africa.
“For people planning to visit malaria areas, it is important to plan, as prophylactic medicines available without prescription often need to be started at least one to two days before travelling and taken daily without interruption while in the malaria area and for a further seven days or more afterwards,” Steenkamp says.
When travelling to regions prone to malaria, prioritising prevention is crucial and it is therefore advisable to make a concerted effort to minimise mosquito bites during your visit.
“Cover up by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and sleeping with a mosquito net to help reduce your chances of being bitten. Mosquito repellents can also help, but pregnant women should be cautious to ensure any measures are pregnancy-safe before using them,” she says.
Some malaria prophylactic medicines are available without a doctor’s prescription. Self-care products such as these are available from https://shop.medipost.co.za, where you can restock your pharmacy essentials before travelling. Delivery is free to any address in South Africa on purchases over R350 or when combined with monthly chronic medication orders.
“Your doctor or pharmacist can advise if you are a suitable candidate for malaria prevention as these medicines may interact with certain chronic medications, such as blood thinners and medications used for HIV and tuberculosis. Furthermore, pregnant women would need to consult with their doctor to determine the need for malaria chemoprophylaxis.”
People registered with Medipost Pharmacy’s chronic medication delivery service or self-care medication online shop have free access to telephonic clinical advice from pharmacists and pharmacist’s assistants in their preferred official South African language for advice regarding dosage, possible side effects or interactions and other queries.
“Please do not take a chance if you are travelling to a malaria area these summer holidays,” Steenkamp concludes.