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Malaria Risk on Long, Tropical Travels

Going for 6 Months or More? See a Travel Medicine Specialist, Experts Say
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 7, 2006 -- If you're heading to the tropics for at least six months, malaria prevention should go on your to-do list before you go.

That advice comes from doctors including Lin Chen, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass.

Chen's team didn't find a one-size-fits-all malaria prevention strategy. So they recommend that long-term travelers see travel medicine specialists for personalized advice.

Long-term travelers should also bring enough antimalaria medicine for their trip, since counterfeit drugs are "rampant" in many countries, write the researchers.

They cite about 100 malaria studies in their review, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Of course, malaria isn't just a problem for travelers.

"Malaria is an infection caused by a parasite and carried from person to person by mosquitoes," states the web site of the World Health Organization (WHO).

"It is preventable and curable but kills more than one million people -- most of them young children living in Africa -- each year," the WHO states.

Chen's review focuses on long-term travelers, defined as those who aren't immune to malaria parasites and stay at least six months in areas where malaria is common.

Long-term travelers included diplomats, students, missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, military personnel, overseas corporate staff, backpackers, and flight crews making many quick tropical trips.

Most long-term travelers didn't get malaria, but they were more likely than short-term travelers to get malaria, probably because they tended to slack on malaria protection, the review shows.

Malaria protection includes staying inside from dusk to dawn, wearing protective clothing, sleeping under insecticidal bed nets, using insect repellent, and taking antimalaria medicines as instructed.

"All strategies have advantages and drawbacks," Chen's team writes, calling malaria prevention a "complex issue" for long-term travelers.

The researchers call for studies to pinpoint the best ways to prevent malaria in long-term travelers. Until then, they recommend seeing a specialist for advice tailored to your trip.

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