Mosquito Protection for Travellers
The importance of comprehensive mosquito protection for travellers to regions where malaria is present was made shockingly clear by one recent case. An Australian who spent just one week in Cambodia this February was rushed to hospital following a positive blood test for the most severe strain of malaria.
A friend of the woman said she developed a high fever with vomiting and trembling soon after arriving home in Queensland. Following a call to the 1300 number for at-home medical advice, an urgent blood test revealed the deadly parasite. By this time the victim was unable to move and had to be taken to hospital, where she was placed on life support almost immediately. It was five days before her condition stabilised enough for her to be moved out of intensive care. Tissue necrosis and organ damage has left her reliant on daily dialysis and assisted breathing, as well as the possibility of having both hands amputated.
The traveller had seen a doctor in the weeks before her trip, where she received vaccines for various tropical diseases. She was advised that prophylactic treatment with anti-malarial medication would not be required during her short stay because it was the dry season in Cambodia, a time when lower mosquito numbers mean a reduced risk of contracting the disease. The woman and her friend have since been in touch with a solicitor, and are exploring legal options as a result of the doctor’s advice against prophylactic treatment with anti-malarial drugs.
Malaria prevention is an important consideration for those travelling to areas where the parasite is known to infect humans, including common destinations for Australian tourists such as south-east Asia. Anti-Malarial drugs are not 100 percent effective at preventing infection, and carry a list of side-effects including dizziness, anxiety, blurred vision, and nausea. For this reason, they are only prescribed when the risk of exposure to the malaria parasite is at its highest.
An effective malaria vaccine is yet to be developed, but there are several drugs which target the disease-causing parasites during the part of their life-cycle spent in the liver, and their transfer into the bloodstream. While effective if used according to a strict schedule and for the appropriate duration prior to and following exposure, many strains of malaria have developed resistance to these drugs.
Growing drug-resistance and the requirement for strict adherence to the relevant dosing schedule mean that bite prevention and other risk-management strategies are needed to minimise risk for travellers.
Mosquito bite prevention is therefore the gold-standard of malaria prophylaxis, and a key strategy open to any traveller is the use of clothing, bedding, and netting treated with a product proven to repel mosquitos.
The tragic case described at the beginning of this article serves to highlight the need for travellers to take preventative action against mosquito bites in areas where malaria remains a threat to humans. It is also a reminder that, despite its enormous and obvious value, travel medicine is not a magic seal of protection against diseases spread by pests.
Travellers are reminded that clothing and equipment containing an effective anti-mosquito treatment is a key bite prevention measure and a vital part of effective malaria prophylaxis.