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Malaria: What you need to know

Mosquitoes may hitchhike in vehicles returning from malaria areas and transmit the infection to non-travellers, which is so-called “suitcase malaria”.

If you been in a malaria risk area in the past 10 days to three weeks and are experiencing flu-like symptoms, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) is advising that you seek medical attention.

“Anyone who has been in a malaria risk area…who gets ill with flu-like symptoms (headache, muscle and joint pains, chills, fever and sweating, vomiting and loss of appetite in young children) should remember that malaria is a possibility and seek medical attention, which should include a malaria blood test, repeated if necessary,” said the NICD in a statement.

Preliminary data from the National Department of Health indicates that the total number of cases across the three malaria-endemic provinces, such as north-eastern Limpopo, eastern Mpumalanga, and northern KwaZulu-Natal, has risen in the last three weeks.

Some of these are likely to be travellers returning from neighbouring countries, particularly Mozambique.

The NICD has also advised travellers who will be hitting the road during the upcoming long weekend, to take precaution and protect themselves against malaria.

“Travellers should tell healthcare workers about travel and possible exposure, as they may forget to ask. Using anti-mosquito measures (nets, repellents etc.) or prophylactic medicines does not guarantee perfect protection from malaria,” said the NICD.

Furthermore the institute explained mosquitoes may hitchhike in vehicles returning from malaria areas and transmit the infection to non-travellers, which is so-called “suitcase malaria”.

“Delayed diagnosis of malaria often leads to more severe illness, with the danger of serious complications or even death. Another potentially dangerous infection that may be acquired in the bush, on game reserves or on farms, is tick bite fever, which in its early stages, can appear clinically like malaria, with fever and severe headache,” said the NICD.

Symptoms to look out for:
 

  • The finding of an attached tick of any size may be a warning sign of this infection.
  • A small black scab with surrounding inflammation, sometimes with an enlarged, tender local lymph node, is highly suggestive of an infected tick bite and urgent medical attention is advised
  • Flu-like illness that gets progressively worse over a few days, where an alternative diagnosis is not made.

Malaria cases are often misdiagnosed as influenza, viral hepatitis or bacterial sepsis.