How to Prevent Getting Malaria? — Here are advices from Travel Experts!
When we decided to stay in Laos for few weeks, I got worried about getting malaria. I’m very easy target to mosquitos – to this day, I don’t know the reason. And just in time, there was a BBC article about how malaria is getting higher death rates around the world. Perfect.
But, since we’re not going to any jungle expeditions and mostly working on the desk, we decided not to take any medication. The solution was: two bottles of mosquito repellent – citronella oil and DEET.
Then I got curious, what’s the proper way to avoid the risk and how travelers are actually doing it. What kind of medications is out there, what’s the truth about the side effects, and would you be willing to take any.
The best advice comes from experienced travelers. So I asked around this question to travelers and many of them were willing to help me out to made this post.
Thanks everyone for helping me to make this informative post about malaria! Let’s be safe out there. I’m going back without getting malaria.
If you are traveling to a malaria zone, how would you prepare to prevent getting malaria?
When you were traveling through the zone, what was your method and where was it? Was it effective?
Side effects for anti-malarials have been reported for a long time. Did you experience any?
Will you do the same if you travel through a malaria zone again?
Caz and Craig Makepeace @yTravelBlog
I would visit my local doctor for their advice on which medication to take. I would make sure I do research before this on different malaria vaccines to make sure I take one that I feel is right for me, and my doctor knows this. I know there are some that have really nasty side effects, so if a doctor recommended this I would refuse.
I would also make sure that I have clothing that covers my arms and legs. I would also buy a mosquito net and repellant.
We took doxycycline. It was a tablet form that we took every day. We also made sure we covered up with repellent, appropriate clothing and mosquito nets at night.
We did not experience any side effects at all. I think there is a higher chance of getting sunburned, which could have possibly happened.
Yes we will take it again. We found this medication to be fine. Also, it came in handy when I came down with tick bite fever as it helped clear that up!
There are a lot of reasons for and against taking anti-malaria medication. You need to do what you feel is right for you after you have researched and spoken with your doctor. You have to weigh up the risks. For me, I’d rather take the medication and have the peace of mind. Contracting malaria would not be fun and I’m sure would ruin your travel plans.
I just got some anti-malaria medication for an upcoming trip to Chaing Rai. But, this time I got some homeopathic remedies, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.
There are no side effects and it doesn’t suppress your immune system. You just take some five days before you leave and then once a week while there and for a week after. Seems easy and pretty good.
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Angie & Jenke @Ichweisswo
When we travel to a malaria zones, we have malaria pills with us in case we need them, but we do not take them as prevention.
We have been to many African and Asian countries so far but we always traveled without taking the prevention.
For us, Mosquito repellent is the best prevention. We buy Mosquito repellent containing DEET. We use it carefully though as the chemicals are quite heavy. In the evening we wear long pants, long sleeved shirts, and even shoes with socks. An absolute must is a Mosquito net for the bed. We always check before if the accommodation offers one, if not we bring our own. We also always have some tape with us in case the existing net is ripped. Before going to bed, we check the net carefully for new holes and if Mosquitos are inside the net. If necessary we use spray, open the windows and leave for a while and then come back again.
We mainly do this because we have heard of so many bad side effects when taking the prevention pills (like depression) – we simply didn’t want to sit on the beach crying.
Phil Paoletta @sickontheroad
I would prepare by visiting this page from the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/country_table/a.html), which has strain information, recommended prophylactics and treatment for every country, and by talking to a doctor at a travel health clinic.
I have taken both doxycycline and Lariam (mefloquine) while traveling through West Africa. I ended up getting malaria both times while I was on those prophylactics. This could have been because neither is foolproof or it could have been because I missed doses along the way.
I experienced heartburn and acid reflux with doxy and nightmares with Lariam. I will not take either in the future, but it’s important to note that there are many people that experience no side effects.
As I write this, I am traveling/living in West Africa. As I am here long-term, I have not been taking a prophylactic, but I take precautions to minimize mosquito bites and I ALWAYS have coartem on me. Coartem is a power course of treatment and it is available in every pharmacy here. It is an effective emergency stand-by treatment for the plasmodium falciparum strain of malaria, which is found in West Africa.
It’s very important to realize that malaria is not the same disease everywhere in the world. There are different strains and in certain areas, some are resistant to certain prophylactics and treatment options. It is critical to research before hand and talk with a doctor who specializes in travel health.
I didn’t take any anti-malarials. I’d always heard that the symptoms of them were sometimes as bad as malaria. Plus, you have to start taking them before and keep taking them after your trip. I’d heard of a lot of people who started taking them, and then stopped because of side effects.
I tried to always spray down with DEET and avoid being out at dusk and dawn. I haven’t gotten malaria yet, but I also have not been on crazy multi-day hikes or anything. Perhaps if I was, I would treat it differently.
I’m curious about the vaccine.
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We have only traveled once to malaria zones, but it involved several different places in a 15-month trip. In preparation to go my husband and I went to a doctor who specializes in travel medicine and does a lot of world traveling himself. We also did a lot of our own research. We purchased other preventative items as mentioned in the next question.
In Tanzania, Swaziland and parts of South Africa we took Malarone. We were told we did not have to take it during the areas we traveled to for 6 weeks around Thailand or 3 months in China. We did not to take it for a short visit to Siem Reap and I honestly can’t remember if we took it in parts of Laos.
In any areas of high risk we also used a high concentration of DEET, sprayed our clothing and mosquito nets with permetherin and the room we were going to be sleeping in got sprayed, often by the staff. When venturing into dense vegetation, areas of standing water, or out at night or early morning we wore long sleeves and pants also sprayed with pemetherin.
And we both returned from our trip malaria free.
Luckily the Malarone medication we took is usually quite well tolerated. Other than feeling very minor nausea when first taking the pills neither one of us experienced any side effects. In total we took 3 months of it. I worked in a pharmacy for ten years and can say that I have heard my fair share of malaria medication side effect issues. Larium being the biggest complaint.
We would do everything the same if we return to another malaria zone.
I don’t know how I would feel about taking any other malaria meds other than Malarone, because of all the side effects I have heard about. I also don’t know if I would stay in a country with a high malaria risk on a long-term basis. I am so prone to being bit by mosquitos; it would make me very nervous.
Laurel Robbins @Laurel_Robbins
Upon the recommendation of some local guides, I always ensure that I’m covered from head to toe when traveling in malaria zones. This means wearing a long sleeve shirt, pants, not shorts, and socks and hiking boots, not sandals – no matter how hot it is.
Fortunately there is a lot of lightweight and quick dry clothing on the market which work well for this purpose and don’t take much room in a backpack. Dressing like this also protects you from spiders and other critters found in tropical countries.
I’ve done this while living in Thailand for two years and studying monkeys in the Belize jungle for six weeks, and traveling in Central America and Ecuador. To date, it’s been 100% effective for me.
I was taking anti-malarial pills that were fine for Central America, but apparently not the really strong ones. Still, they made me so sick to my stomach that I stopped taking them after a few days. I won’t take them again for future trips but will rely on covering up instead and sleeping under a mosquito net.
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Stephen Bugno @BohemianTrav
Before traveling, it’s best to seek out multiple opinions and know that each malarial zone is unique. Also it’s important to consider how long you’ll be there. Before heading to southeast Asia, I did some research online as well as consulted a doctor back home and a doctor from within the region.
The doctor at the Bangkok Red Cross said anti-malarial medication wasn’t necessary. Many of the malaria strains are resistant to the medication and then cannot be used to treat a patient after he or she gets malaria. Rather, he told me, wait until you observe the symptoms of malaria, and then get to medical help quickly to get treated, to prevent death. He also thought malaria in southeast Asia is less of a threat than it used to be. I knew I would be traveling to remote places and unable to get to medical help quickly, so I kept that in mind before deciding.
I also consulted a doctor back in the States who had traveled throughout southeast Asia himself a few years back. I knew he would be as cautious about the side effects of the anti-malarials as I am. He suggested I go with Doxycycline.
I ended up taking the Doxycycline for the three-month trip and was careful to prevent mosquito bites by wearing long clothing at night and using repellent as well as sleeping under a mosquito net.
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Lillie Marshall @WorldLillie
I lived for 3 months in the highly malarial zone of Ghana, West Africa. To prevent Malaria, I religiously took Malarone daily pills.
I had no side effects, and I did not get Malaria, even while all my Ghanaian coworkers (who did not have Malarone or other pills) did get it and repeatedly relapse, and were miserable!
I also took Malarone when traveling through Ecuador for a week, and again had no side effects and no Malaria.
I am planning on traveling through Tanzania this summer and will certainly take Malarone. I think it’s a great solution!
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Erin and Simon @neverendingvoyage
We took doxycycline pills when we were in India and Laos. You can buy these in any pharmacy in Asia cheaply without a prescription and luckily we didn’t have any side effects from them. We’d take them again if we were going to a high-risk area.
We use the Fit For Travel website (http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/) run by the UK’s National Health Service to get information about which destinations we should take anti-malarials for. Their destination maps are particularly helpful for seeing which parts of a country have a higher risk.
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Michael Tieso @Artofbackpakin
When I traveled through Laos, I took doxycycline pills. I took it for almost a week but I kept forgetting after that. I couldn’t remember for the life of me. I talked to other travelers and found that many travelers were not taking it either.
In fact, anti-mosquito repellent was just as effective. I always made sure beds had a net and I covered myself in repellent often. I went through Laos and Cambodia doing just that and nothing happened. Perhaps I was lucky but I also wasn’t going deep into any jungles either.
I haven’t been in the Amazon or anywhere in Africa yet but I think some of those areas might be more prone to malaria than SE Asia these days and I might take more precaution when I do get to that part of the world.
I think it’s definitely important to be safe and it’s better to be on the safe side when it comes to your health. I know of a lot of people that had bad reactions with doxycycline pills so I would recommend to have a plan B incase doxycycline is not for you.
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Avis Mulhall @avismulhall
The first time I travelled to a malaria zone I did everything I could – took anti-malarials, covered up, had sprays, coils etc. I still got malaria. Three times. I even got cerebral malaria once.
But to be honest, it’s only because I was living in a rainforest that was a well-known malaria hotspot. I’ve travelled through many other malaria zones with no problems at all. I also suffer from crohns disease, so often times when I take tablets they’re not absorbed & are not effective.
I didn’t get any side effects from taking anti malarials, but I decided to stop taking them as I was travelling long term & didn’t feel it was healthy to take them long term. I have friends who suffered terribly from side effects from taking them long term. It’s not something I’d recommend doing. If you’re going on a short break I’d be more inclined to take them but if you’re travelling for any length of time I wouldn’t bother.
I have since travelled and lived in other malaria zones and I still don’t take anti-malarials. I’ve found that the best thing to do is to use mosquito coils in the evenings in your room & where you are sitting, make sure your net has no holes in it & is tucked in when you go to bed, and I NEVER use DEET – that stuff is totally toxic. I find the best thing to use is what the locals use – it’s usually a citronella type stick.
The best way to avoid malaria is to avoid getting bitten. It sounds stupid, but it’s the truth.
Don’t let a fear of getting malaria ruin your travels or prevent you from having adventures. If you are clever, cautious and do your best that’s all you can do. At the end of the day, if you do get malaria, it’s just a case of being aware of the symptoms and seeking medical help quickly. My advice is to always, always travel with some malarone (or similar) that you can take a course of if you’re off the beaten track & get symptoms. Even if you never get sick, it’s great to have that peace of mind so that you can enjoy your adventures!
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Dustin Main @skinnybackpacker
I try to prevent inspect bites with long pants, mosquito repellent, and nets when needed. I’ve always taken doxy when traveling into a malaria zone (both Asia and Africa), and have probably taken it for about 50 weeks in total over 4-5 years. The only side effect I’ve had is an increased risk of sunburn, but I’m pretty fair skinned as it is so I pile on the sunscreen went I’m out normally.
I will certainly take them again in the future, as prevention is worth a whole lot more than the illness (that can stay with you for life). I’d highly recommend talking to your doctor or local health travel center about your options, and not just anecdotes from travelers.
Malaria isn’t a fun illness to have. Fortunately I’ve never contracted it, but I certainly don’t want to try.
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Aisleen Marley @LifesGreatAdv
We travelled through a few malaria zones and were so paranoid! This included rural areas of Vietnam and Cambodia and throughout Pakistan.
We took Doxycycline which was the best one for us as it is effective in most countries. It is also very mild and we have never suffered from any side effects despite having taken the tablets for an extended period of time.
Malarone is perhaps the most expensive tablet and not always available – it is also more prone to producing side effects and some high-risk countries have developed a resistance to it.
The time of day you take your tablets and if you have had any alcohol can effect whether or not you get side effects. The best time is to take it is in the evening just before it gets dark and if you can, take it with a meal. If you take it in the middle of the day on an empty stomach you can feel a bit funny. One of the things many people overlook is that you HAVE to continue taking your tablets after you have left a malaria zone (sometimes for up to 28 days afterwards) If you don’t, you will still be at risk.
We also put up our net at night even in low risk areas (even without carrying malaria, mosquitoes are still a pain!)
If trekking through paddy fields or near pigs in a malaria zone, always cover up completely (this includes tucking your trousers into your socks no matter how silly you look!). Mosquito coils in general stopped us getting bites too, especially when camping out at night.
DEET is messy stuff and stinky but it really does do the trick. Just try not to get too much on the palm of your hands or whenever you touch things you’ll get very mucky. We noticed that anywhere we forgot to put it on was always the area we were bitten! Mate sure to have at least 70% DEET in any repellent! This may sound high, but any less than 70% simply isn’t effective enough. We had 80% DEET on the recommendation of our Travel Clinic in the UK.
It may be a pain to remember to take your tablets everyday, put on yucky repellent and mess around with mosquito nets every night but it really is better to be safe than sorry! Even if you do experience some side effects, they will be nothing to compare to the symptoms of malaria!
Also, watch the amount of alcohol you take around the time you take your tablet. That can make any side effects you may experience, much worse.
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Julian Carnall @JRCarnall
Firstly I suppose I should mention that I was born and raised in East Africa (Kenya) and more specifically in an area with an exceptionally high level of malaria (the Kenyan coast).
I have never taken any form of malaria preventative as it is not advised to take anti malaria medication for a considerable amount of time. I have never contracted malaria although a couple of my family members have.
My main “preventative” is precaution. I do try and keep mosquito repellant handy and to apply it most evenings (evenings/night time are especially bad for mosquitos) I also try to sleep under a mosquito net where possible and if there is not one available try to sleep fairly “covered up”.
I personally will never take anti malarial medication and will continue to practice more of a practical preventative as opposed to a medicinal one.
I think the biggest reason for people taking anti malarial tablets is due to a perception that Malaria is an instantly deadly illness. Where as the facts are that in nearly all cases of malaria there is an incubation period of 10-14 days before symptoms arise and then a further 2/3 day period when medication needs to be taken.
Isolation and lack off access to medical help is obviously the biggest cause for deaths when it comes to Malaria. My best advise to someone travelling in a malaria zone is to be aware of their time of travel and be conscious of the fact that should they have any symptoms of malaria after having been or remaining in a malaria zone to immediately have a test for malaria. The test should always be requested for specifically by the patient in case a doctor/medical professional fails to include the malaria test in any standard blood screening.
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Lauren Juliff @NEFootsteps
I normally buy anti-malarial tablets before leaving and buy lots of mosquito repellent.
I didn’t take malaria tablets while travelling through South East Asia, and use mosquito repellent in the evenings. I have yet to catch malaria so yes it was effective.
I wouldn’t take malaria tablets while in Asia, but would take them if I was somewhere like Africa.