When the British Media announced that pop singer Cheryl Cole had malaria I wondered what all the fuss was about. Here is a celebrity with lots of money and access to some of the best medical care in the world. I had little sympathy for her illness.
I’ve been travelling back and forth to Africa for many years now and never contracted Malaria, until recently. It’s not an experience that I want to repeat and I now have a lot more sympathy for Cheryl Cole.
How to avoid malaria.
Be aware of the risk of malaria and take all the necessary precautions.
- Take your malaria prophylaxis as indicated on the instructions.
- Wear trousers and long sleeved shirts during dawn and dusk.
- Use an insect repellent with DEET.
- At night, sleep under a mosquito net.
I did all of these things but unfortunately I still managed to get malaria.
How to know if you have malaria.
Firstly you may develop a headache and lose all interest in food. All you’ll want to do is climb into bed and die. Then things will get worse. A pounding head, aching lower back and nausea.
When I had malaria it took me some time to crawl out of bed and then I wished I hadn’t bothered. I wasn’t hungry and the smell of my apple and cinnamon tea made me feel sick. I did little other than lie on a lounge chair and stare into space. By midday I knew it was serious.
You will feel as though your body thermostat is malfunctioning sending you through cycles of shivering cold and sweaty heat. Have warm blankets and ice cubes ready and get professional medical attention.
I managed to get a lift to the local clinic. Every bump and pothole in the road caused a splitting sensation through my skull and it was a real effort to keep the contents of my stomach intact. Somehow I survived the journey and was deposited on the steps with a mixed crowd of locals who indicated I should enter immediately and see the nurse. I felt like I was queue jumping but given the state I was in I really didn’t care.
Get a malaria test and the locally recommended treatment.
I asked the nurse for a malaria test. It was Sunday, the doctor was not there and when we searched the stockroom we discovered there were no test kits.
How to treat Malaria.
For most of sub-Saharan Africa the recommended and commonly available treatment is Coartem. It is 12 pills taken over 3 days and the side affects are actually very similar to the symptoms of malaria, so at first it can be difficult to know if you are getting better.
It seemed I didn’t need a test to confirm I had malaria. Just looking at me was enough and a pack of Coartem was handed over. The most unpleasant symptom that I suffered was explosive, uncontrollable diarrhoea. Already weak and feeble, there were several times when I barely made it to the toilet. In the end I borrowed some sanitary pads from a friend to use as incontinence pads.
It can take at least 4 days to really recover and get back to normal.
How to respect malaria.
Some people say that malaria is like a really bad case of the flu and it was actually this information that told me I had malaria. Unfortunately when tourists arrive back from their holidays to a cold, wet, wintry Britain it is all too easy to assume that the aches and the fever is just flu and so many cases can go undiagnosed until it is too late to treat them.
According to a study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Oxford, over a 20 year period 81 out of 2,740 tourists with malaria died (a case mortality rate of 3.0%). The mortality rate of tourists who had visited the Gambia was even higher at 6.0%. It is possible that some of these people had not taken the necessary precautions, in fact my own mother stopped taking her prophylaxis on the basis that she didn’t see any mosquitoes when she was in the Gambia. Just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean that they are not there.
I had the opportunity to take preventative measures and I still contracted malaria. I was able to get treated easily and I recovered. The people I really sympathise with are the locals who sleep without nets and suffer the agony of malaria and sometimes even die because they can’t afford to protect or treat themselves. I don’t have any sympathy for tourists who ignore the risks. I think we forget just how lucky we are.