There’s a dirty little rumour spreading throughout the travel community.
The sort that starts with a whisper amongst dorm mates, and then slowly, with nary but a question, becomes spoken as fact, batted back and forth in discussion threads and regurgitated at will.
You see, for some time now, we’ve been members of several facebook groups relevant to travel, and almost daily engage in conversations related to countries through which we have ventured. These groups are a fantastic place to seek advice on issues such as itinerary suggestions, local transport, budget ideas, or to know if a place is now inaccessible due to freak weather conditions.
However, they have their limits. Increasingly, the common question posed by someone getting ready to head to South America or South-East Asia of ‘should I take anti-malarials?’, is one of them.
As well-meaning as most of the respondents are, their frequent assertions that 'nah mate, you only need meds in the jungle' (despite plenty of evidence to the contrary) or reassurances that they travelled in a malaria prone region and remained well despite not taking medication, are simply bad logic - and a statement we’re sure many of the 1,600 Brits who imported malaria back home last year would refute.
Worse still are the common misconceptions (and readily repeated half-truths) that malaria isn't all that bad, that it is easy to treat or that it can't kill you.
Because, you know, just for the record, it is, it might not be and yes it bloody well can!
So, if this is the case, then why is it that so many travellers are so quick to dismiss the risks of malaria, or worse, fail to consider it at all? Why is it that they will spend hours searching for the cheapest flight or the very best spot to take that killer Instagram shot, but not the simple steps that can be taken to dramatically reduce their chances of getting sick?
Do we not care? Do we simply not believe it can happen to us? Perhaps growing up in a semi in rural England means that this terrible disease which continues to kill 1,200 children a day worldwide, is more commonly associated with heart-wrenching Red Nose Day appeals than a real tangible travel threat; something that happens only to locals in Africa, those that spend months wading through the Amazonian rainforest or living with a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea.
Of course, the longer you spend in a high-risk area, the greater your chance of contracting malaria, but this doesn’t mean that by only taking a two-week holiday to Laos you completely negate the possibility of getting sick either.
Or that in many countries, a thorough coating of deet and stylish linen trousers are always enough.
After all, it only takes one bite.
So, what's the answer? Well, actually, there's two: education and preparation. And by education, we certainly don't mean seeking medical advice from fellow travellers over beers or on social media.
We understand that medical information online can be overwhelming, that most people don’t have the time or inclination to pour over recent medical journals, and may, on long-term multi-country adventures, find even straightforward sources difficult to negotiate (even with a medical background, planning a 24 month prophylaxis regimen in Latin America took some dedication and expertise). That is why we always recommend a visit to a pharmacist, travel clinic or your GP - someone who can advise you of malaria-hotspots, potential medications and other preventative actions - long before you step on that plane.
You know, someone a bit more qualified than Dave, the bearded hippy you just met online who looks like he'd be a bloody great guy to travel Guatemala with, but has no clue about medicine.
He may have the right answers, but given that nearly half of those travelling to malaria prone regions may be leaving themselves open to infection, there's a pretty good chance he doesn't.
Of course, we're also well aware that as much as you try to tick off every item on that pre-trip to do list, travel plans can change, long-term thinking isn’t always possible if you’ve just given in to that last minute cheap flight to somewhere exotic, or that, for those travelling long-term, a serendipitous new friendship may just lead you to a new country that was never on the list.
What most people don't realise however, (what we didn't realise until recently) is that you can actually get medication for the prevention of malaria, such as Maloff Protect* over the counter from your UK pharmacist, without a visit to the doctor. So, if you're one of the 20% of 18-34 year olds who didn't take them because you didn't have time or know where to get them before a trip, well, you no longer have the excuse! As with all medication, do make sure you read the label before use.
Yeah, we know we probably sound a little like your mum. But the thing is, our health - your health - is pretty important. It's what allows you to have crazy adventures and make amazing memories for the rest of your life.
Don't let a mozzy ruin that!
* Active ingredients are 250 mg atovaquone /100 mg proguanil hydrochloride
Whilst I am a registered medical practitioner in the UK, I am not an infectious disease expert. This article is not designed to and does not provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual. Through this article, alongdustyroads.com provides general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your doctor/travel nurse or other healthcare provider. alongdustyroads.com is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis or any other information, services or product you obtain through this article.
This article was supported by Glenmark Pharmaceuticals - all thoughts, opinions and spelling mistakes are however our own.