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Don't Let Malaria "Bug" Your Family
Don't Let Malaria "Bug" Your Family

Walking safari in Selenkay Conservation Area

Photo by Magical Africa Safaris Ltd.

By Dr. Julia A. Piwoz, Hackensack University Medical Center

When you plan your next family vacation, don't forget the bug spray. Whether you are traveling to Asia, Africa, Central and South America you may be at risk for malaria, an infection caused by a parasite that is passed to humans through a mosquito bite. While malaria can be fatal and afflicts roughly 500 million people each year you need not forego a trip to the tropics. There are several simple yet effective steps you can take to prevent you and your kids from getting bit by an infected mosquito.

Wear long sleeve shirts and pants in light colors, if possible, so you can see which biting pests may be lurking. Treat your clothing with a special substance such as permethrin, available on the internet and in specialty stores, designed to kill biting insects. Be sure to spray this insecticide on clothing and not skin.

Insect Repellents
Nothing works better than DEET and it is safe for adults and kids over 2 months of age. Many popular brands (OFF, Cutter and others) sell insect repellents with DEET and it comes in many strengths. The concentration determines how long an application will last, not its efficacy. A single application of repellents with 30-35% DEET will last 4-6 hours, though the duration may be shorter if you swim or sweat a lot. Lower potency sprays and lotions are available, but require more frequent application. Be sure to read the package label carefully before purchasing bug spay.

Picaridin, also known as Bayrepel, is another insect repellent that has been shown to be safe and effective for adults and children 3 years of age and older. It is odorless and less irritating to the skin. In the US, Picaridin is available in 7% and 15% preparations.

Combination sunscreen insect repellents may seem like a good idea but are actually best avoided. As you may need to reapply one of the components more frequently than the other, it is a wise idea to apply them separately.

The safest, but maybe not the most fun, way to prevent bites is to sleep in a closed air conditioned room, or a closed room with screens. Sleeping under a specially treated mosquito net is also effective as are mosquito coils that treat the room prior to sleep. Make sure to follow the package instructions for these and all insect repellents used.

Preventive Malaria Medications
If you are traveling to a malaria risk area, your doctor may prescribe a preventive malaria medication for you and your family. These work by maintaining enough medication in your body to be toxic to the malaria parasite, but not you, should you be bitten by an infected mosquito. Not all antimalarials are created equal - the right choice for each person depends on many factors such as age, health, and travel destination as resistance is common in some parts of the world. Some malaria prophylaxis are taken daily, others weekly. Not all malaria medication come in a pediatric dosage, some may need to be crushed. Make sure you discuss each individual family member's health and preferences with your doctor or travel advisor in order to select the best option for each.

Malaria Symptoms
If anyone in your family develops fever, shaking chills, muscle and body aches during or even months after your trip, contact a physician as soon as possible as these may be malaria symptoms or signs of another travel-related ailment. Remember, while it is certainly best to prevent malaria, it is fortunately a treatable illness in persons of all ages.

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