Thursday, July 14, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Travelers headed to tropical locations — central South America, Haiti, sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia — should seek medical advice on malaria prevention a couple months before departure.
The July issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter discusses malaria risks for travelers and the importance of prevention and treatment. Malaria can lead to serious illness and sometimes death. About 1,500 people in the United States are diagnosed with malaria each year. Most cases occur in travelers who didn't take preventive measures. Worldwide, malaria kills an estimated 1 million people every year.
Malaria is caused by microscopic parasites that are transmitted most commonly by mosquito bites. After a bite from an infected mosquito, parasites travel to the liver. They lie dormant for anywhere from 10 days to four weeks, although dormancy can last up to one year. Once the parasites mature, they leave the liver and infect red blood cells. Then, the signs and symptoms of malaria start to occur.
Malaria infections are categorized as either uncomplicated or severe. In uncomplicated malaria, symptoms may be similar to the flu and include moderate to severe chills, high fever, headache and vomiting. If not properly treated, it may become a life-threatening medical emergency.
Severe malaria may involve swelling of the brain, breathing problems, kidney and liver failure, severe damage to the red blood cells and dangerously low blood sugar.
Treatment involves one or more antimalarial drugs such as chloroquine (Aralen), hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), and mefloquine (Lariam). These drugs may be used to prevent malaria.
Effective treatment can cure malaria. People who experience high fever when visiting high-risk areas for malaria should talk to a doctor. Malaria should be considered when high fever occurs for up to a year after travel to high-risk locales.
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