Malaria cases on the rise in KNP

Skukuza Medical Practice has noticed an increase in the number of malaria diagnoses in the Kruger National Park (KNP) since late September this year, and therefore advises all travellers to protect themselves by taking medication while visiting the park. “Your family physician will be able to advise you on the most suitable medication,” said Dr Nardus Visser.

“KNP is known to be one of the malaria endemic areas in the country and there is always a chance of contracting malaria here, though it does not happen often,” said the general manager of communications and marketing, William Mabasa.

The Kruger is one of the two South African National Parks that are situated in malaria risk areas. “It is important to note that the risk is usually low, even in the summer months,” said Visser.

Mabasa further noted, “Although it can be contracted at any time of the year, the malaria season in SA is October to April, with March and April being the highest risk period. We request visitors who contract malaria after having visited the park to assist us by immediately reporting it to our local doctors in Skukuza, as this can assist in recording and identifying all the affected areas in need of attention.”

Visser further explained that malaria is a mosquito borne disease transmitted exclusively through the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. “Following the bite of an infected mosquito, an individual may remain asymptomatic for 12 to 35 days, depending on the type of malaria. This is known as the incubation period. Malaria should be suspected in patients with any unexplained fever after visiting an area where malaria is endemic,” he said.

He added that the symptoms of malaria include:

• Fever

• Chills

• Sweating

• Headaches

• Body aches

• Tiredness.

Other symptoms include:

• Loss of appetite

• Nausea and vomiting

• Belly pain

• Diarrhoea

• Skin that appears yellow, called “jaundice”

• Coughing

• Fast heart rate or breathing.

When malaria becomes severe, it can cause:

• Confusion

• Hallucinations

• Seizures

• Dark or bloody urine.

“Most types of mosquitoes that are encountered will not carry the malaria parasite, and if an individual is bitten it does not mean that they will contract malaria. The risk of malaria can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites. Mosquitoes most often bite between dusk and dawn. People are advised to stay indoors during this period, or cover exposed skin with light clothing or insect repellents. Remember to spray your ankles.

“Burning anti-mosquito coils and ensuring netted screens are kept closed will significantly reduce your risk for contracting insect bites. All of the accommodation available in Kruger is fitted with netted screens,” added Visser.

“Malaria prophylactic drugs can be taken to further decrease the chances of contracting malaria. It is a difficult decision whether or not to take malaria prophylactics when visiting the KNP. The risk of contracting malaria needs to be weighed up against the side effects of the malaria prophylactic medication, and all the drugs available have various side effects. The choice of the appropriate drug an individual should use, is a decision that should be made in consultation with a medical doctor.

“There are three types of malaria prophylactic medications available for the strains of malaria occurring in South Africa, namely Doxycycline, Atovaquone/Proguanil and Mefloquine. It is also important to know that taking malaria prophylaxis does not guarantee that an individual will not contract malaria, it decreases the risk of contracting the disease.

“Malaria should be excluded in anyone who presents with unexplained fever within 12 to 35 days after entering a malaria area. A blood test is the most accurate, although rapid tests are available that are also very accurate,” concluded Visser.

Be informed wen deciding what anti-malaria medication to use …

Stefan de Villiers

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