World Health Day 2014 to Focus on Vector-Borne Diseases
The theme for this year’s World Health Day, held on 7 April, is vector-borne diseases of which Malaria is the most common and deadliest. In 2010, Malaria was the cause of an estimated 660 000 deaths globally.
World Health day commemorates the founding of the World Health Organisation in 1948 and every year a specific theme for the day is chosen that is significant for public health.
The Western Cape is not situated in a Malaria region, however all visitors to malaria-risk areas of Southern Africa, should take caution in contracting the disease. Malaria occurs when parasites of the Plasmodium species infects red blood cells. It occurs in regions where the Anopheles mosquito (a carrier of the disease) is found. This usually includes warm tropic and sub-tropic regions. Only a small part of South Africa (Northern and North Eastern Parts of Limpopo) is a Malaria-risk area.
Thus, any Western Cape residents who visit Malaria risk-areas during the current school holiday or Easter break, should take note of the dangers of Malaria and the preventative measures that can be taken before visiting a Malaria risk-area.
The Malaria cycle starts with the female Anopheles mosquito biting a person and ingesting blood infected with malaria parasites. When the mosquito bites the next person, the parasites are injected and the parasites circulate the bloodstream. The infected red blood cells are infected where the parasites multiply and eventually cause the infected cells to rupture. The parasites released from the ruptured cells infects more red blood cells and sets off the cycle once again. Without treatment, malaria can become life-threatening, and can disrupt blood flow to vital organs.
What Are the Symptoms of Malaria?
The first symptoms are usually the same as that of the flu and can manifest in the first 7 – 10 days after the patient was bitten. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle pain, and headaches. After a few days cyclical symptoms are visible which includes chills, and very high fever, followed by profuse sweating.
Malaria patients can also experience unusual symptoms including abdominal pain and nausea. In serious cases the patient may experience convulsions or go into a coma.
What can be Done to Prevent Malaria?
A number of Malaria medications are available – some requires taking before entering a Malaria risk-area and most of them require medication during the persons visit to the area. Consult your local health practitioner before you visit a Malaria risk-area and ask for a prescription that fits your health status, age and weight. Some medication is not safe for use by children while others may not be used by pregnant women.
Preventative Measures while Visiting a Malaria Risk-area
Along with the prescribed medication, visitors to risk-areas can also protect themselves with mosquito nets and insecticides. Mosquito nets treated with insecticides can be used as well as insecticides apply to exposed skin (roll-on, spray or sticks) It is also advised to wear long-sleeved clothing, as tough as this may be to do in warm weather.
Ensure that your course of medication is completed, even if it seems that you haven’t been bitten. If the medication is stopped before the parasites reach the blood cells, there will not be enough drugs in the blood to kill the parasites, and the medication will fail.
If a person shows flu-like symptoms after visiting a Malaria risk-area, it should be treated as a medical emergency and the person should receive immediate treatment by a medical professional.