Disease threat to travelers in certain parts of the world

This is a disease primarily found in tropical and subtropical areas, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (below the Sahara Desert), the Asian subcontinent, and certain islands, such as Haiti and Papua New Guinea. Malaria affects hundreds of millions of people in these climates and is also a danger to travelers to malaria-infested areas.

Malaria is caused by a parasite that gets transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes. It can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during birth, and via blood transfusion or shared needles (intravenous drug users). Once you have been bitten or infected, the parasites get into your bloodstream and make their way into the liver. There they become mature and release another form of parasite. This parasite gets back into the bloodstream, infecting the red blood cells, multiplying, and infecting some more.

With certain types of parasites, symptoms may not occur for up to a year, but for most they begin to occur within the first few weeks of being infected. Common malaria symptoms include:

  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting

An infected person may also experience anemia due to red blood cell loss.

Malaria can be fatal if left untreated. If you suspect you may have been infected, it’s important to see a doctor right away. Your doctor will ask questions about where you have traveled and how you might have been infected. He or she will likely order a blood test to confirm whether there are parasites, and if so, what type and how they are affecting your body.

The disease is commonly treated with antimalarial medication although some parasites have become resistant to certain drugs. The best way to prevent malaria is to not get bitten. Preventive measures include wearing protective clothing and mosquito repellant, using mosquito nets to avoid getting bitten during sleep, and taking antimalarial medication before traveling to places where malaria is common.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.