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To Take or Not to Take...Antimalarials

That is the Question


People living in Africa will tell you they don’t take anti-malarial medication. They have their reasons, which are many and varied. However, one such, “I never take the stuff” long-term SA resident pal of ours contracted it (again) after our trip to Botswana a few years back and he wasn’t exactly feeling great I can tell you.

After lengthy discussions with a highly respected Johannesburg based Consultant Physician this Spring, I would now never take a risk on vacation. His descriptions of a young healthy Camp manager’s cerebral malaria, resulting in organ failure, coma, blood transfusions and desperate weeks in ICU, were enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. With symptoms sometimes staying hidden for weeks, I figure you should be ok if they emerged in Africa where doctors are well trained to deal with it, but a rural English village? I don’t think so. And, if it’s the aforementioned cerebral malaria...well, that could be curtains before you even get to hospital for a diagnosis. Malaria is still the world's biggest killer.

I have tried all manner of antimalarials over the years. There’s no gentle way of putting it...they all made me feel utterly lousy (nausea, nightmares, sweats, aches and pains) and I do confess to sometimes having stopped courses before their allotted time.

But, before our latest trip, the aforementioned Physician advised me to always take my pill after an evening meal and with a large glass of warm milk. The first 24 hours were not fabulous with the usual disturbed sleep etc. On the second night, (our first under canvas in the dark-beyond-dark bush) my other-half shook me awake from what he supposed to be a screaming nightmare (it wouldn’t be the first). But, Hey Ho, TraLaLa...it wasn’t me. It was HYAENA running around Camp. “Oh, that’s good”, says he, going back to his slumber. Me? I lay there listening to what sounded like a gang of marauding teenagers dealing with their munchies in the Camp’s kitchen. And, yes...I had palpitations. After that? No problems whatsoever...apart from warring baboons, rutting impala, roaring lion and what’s that bloody bird that wakes me up every morning at 4am? Oh yes; the lovely ground hornbill, which are supposedly rather unusual in certain parts of Africa. Not ours!

Some folks say munching garlic will keep dreaded mosquitoes away. Really? What about the smell; it wouldn’t just be the bugs and Devil you kept at bay would it? Readers of my previous posts will perhaps recall I have no sense of smell so this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but you do want to socialise with your travelling companions don’t you? And where the heck would you get enough garlic? And what is enough? How many cloves should you eat? Skins off or on? See...it doesn’t sound helpful or hopeful does it?

So, what should you do?

1. There are a myriad of antimalarials available. Making a choice can be overwhelming and worrying. Do call your local Travel Clinic for advice giving them a detailed trip itinerary. Cambridge is my nearest (+441223 367362). They are well-informed and bang up-to-date dealing with travelling students, day in/day out.
2. Plan ahead – don’t leave it to the last minute.
3. Remember Africa has malaria hot-spots, which can change from one year to the next.
4. Antimalarials are expensive and not usually available on the NHS so shop around. Asda pharmacy is amongst the cheapest.
5. Take it at the same time every day; I doled ours out after dinner.
6. If they are making your feel awful do try with a glass of warm milk or perhaps you would be better taking them straight after breakfast?
7. Don’t listen to anyone else’s, “why are you bothering with that?” or “try these instead”. Stick to your plan.
8. A small minority of individuals taking antimalarials containing Larium experience off-the-scale screaming habdab side-effects, (similar to mine listed above but ten-fold). However, go on those internet forums and you’ll see both sides of the coin. Personally I don’t want to even toy with the possibility of becoming psychotic. Malarone is my prophylactic of choice and seems to be one of the most commonly prescribed.
9. One of the worst times for being bitten is at night especially if you are eating outside when bugs of all description will sometimes appear in clouds around any source of light. Cover up: long sleeves, scarf, trousers tucked into socks. (read clothing list here) Spray your tent before you go out and again when you come in. Spray your clothing too – it really helps.
10. Some sprays are noxious in the extreme. A great 100% natural, Deet free, alternative “clinically proven to protect against malaria” according to its scientific blub, is INCOGNITO anti-mosquito (see details here) . Made in the UK it comes in a 100ml spray bottle and is available on the internet.
11. I suppose my best piece of advice is to plan your trip. If you can’t face taking medication pick locations that are malaria free or go in the dry season. Just watch out for snakes...but that’s another post!

All my talk has been of Africa, but funnily enough my two worst experiences of being eaten alive were in West Scotland (midge), where I resorted to wearing a fly-fishing head net for three days, and Malaysia (mosquito) where my idea of a quiet little hour of solitude by our host’s pool set in tropical gardens turned into a scene from a horror flick.

Posted by haveyoubeenyet 07:31 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged tent mosquito milk lion hippo malaria garlic spray deet anti_malaria ground_hornbill travel_clinic

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