Cerebral Malaria in Africa
There are many man-eaters dwelling in Africa, but the most dangerous ones are the mosquitoes. We decided to travel without preventive malaria medication and here is how we did it. The next twelve months will show how successful that was.
There are many variants of malaria. The most dangerous and common species of malaria parasites is P. falciparum causing cerebral malaria. It is responsible for 80% of all infections and 90% of all deaths. Within 24 hours, it reaches the brain and can cause coma, which reduces the chances of survival significantly. A mosquito gets the malaria parasite by biting someone who has malaria and then transmits it to everyone she bites. The only effective way to not get it is stay out of Africa or avoid mosquito bites. We chose the latter option.
A deadly nightly hazard
Malaria mosquitoes are active at night. Some people told us that the dangerous time begins at 8pm, others talked about 10pm. We went to bed at sunset around 7 pm and woke up around 5am at sunrise. At night, the most common way to protect yourself is to sleep under a mosquito net. The net is hanged from a hook in the ceiling. We had a few times some very well fed mosquitoes inside the net. The first one was hiding under the bed when we lowered the net and the second time happened when there was a dog sleeping in the same room. In the middle of the night, she jumped to our bed opening the net for unwanted visitors. It can become quite hot inside the net as it also hinders air flow and blocks the effect of a fan.
Another option is to use insect poison to kill mosquitoes. There are devices spreading poison all night long. All you have to do is to remember to refill the poison liquid, or change the poison pad, and plug the device. This means that also you will be inhaling the poison. The room has to be relatively air tight and there shouldn’t be any screens on the windows. Otherwise the poison will flow out without expected effect.
The last night in Africa we stayed in Jollyboys’ Backpackers Hostel in Livingstone, Zambia (see the photo). It was the rainy season meaning also mosquito high season in one of the worst malaria areas in Africa. We were quite surprised to see that in our dormitory of sixteen people we were the only ones having a net, which we had to go and buy by ourselves because the hostel offered none, nor spraying or any other protective measures.
Medication benefits only pharmaceutical companies
From what we learned from Africans we met, the malaria has resistance to the drugs taken in advance that pharmaceutical companies eagerly promote in Europe. That’s why we decided not to take anything. In the best case, we would have gotten a false feeling of security and in the worst some nasty side-effects. Folklore is also suggesting that eating a lot of raw garlic helps to keep mosquitoes away. We did that, too, as we love raw garlic, but the only definitive reaction we received was empty seats around us in buses and aeroplanes.
There is no way to predict the malaria risk. We met many people who had lived decades in Africa without medication and had never had malaria, so there seems to be hope. But on the other hand, we also met people who only stayed in Africa for a couple of weeks and got sick right away. If you want to be on the safe side, it is perhaps best not to travel to malaria areas at all. Trying to avoid mosquitoes is quite stressing and no matter how careful you are, some of them will anyway bite you.Keywords: Malaria, prevention, preventive, medicine, P. falciparum, Tanzania, Zambia, mosquito, poison, net, medication, cerebral, brain, hospital, antimalaria, chloroquine, doxycycline, mefloquine, lariam, primaquine, atovaquone, proguanil, malarone, heliopar.