Monday, April 25, 2011

World Malaria Day: protecting your children, yourself & others

Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells.
Symptoms of malaria include fever, headache, and vomiting, and usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs.

Today is World Malaria Day. Every year, 790 000 people die from malaria worldwide, and this is actually progress: a few years ago that number was 1 million. Still, malaria remains a huge problem in many countries, causing ill health in children and adults. If you want more information about the disease, and the fight to eradicate it, visit the World Malaria Day site.

Malaria is an on-going concern for travelers too, and if you're traveling with children to a country or region where there is malaria, you need to inform yourself about ways to minimize and hopefully avoid infection. Many types of malaria have become resistant to almost all available treatments, so this is definitely a disease you want to be aware of if you're traveling in affected areas.

From netdoctor.co.uk (a very informative site):
Prevention requires A, B, C and D.
  • Awareness of risk.
  • Bite avoidance.
  • Chemoprophylaxis (taking preventive medicines if you are travelling to or living in a malaria region).
  • Diagnosis made promptly with early treatment of an infected case.
You can find out what areas are affected by malaria from various websites online, including the World Health Organization. They have a world map showing the affected areas. Many countries in Africa south of the Sahara, Asia, and some parts of South and Central America are classified by the WHO as "countries or areas where malaria transmission occurs".

Ways to avoid mosquito bites include using mosquito repellent, covering up with long-sleeves and long pants, using mosquito nets at night, and taking preventative medicines.

To quote the netdoctor site again:
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it's inadvisable to take infants and young children to areas where there's malaria, especially if there's chloroquine-resistant falciparum malaria.

If you decide to go anyway, or if you are obliged to go, extra care should be taken to protect small children because they get ill quickly if falciparum malaria is involved.

It's vital to get qualified medical help if a child develops a fever during or after a trip to a malarious region, even if you have done everything possible to avoid catching the disease.
Pregnant women are also discouraged by the WHO to travel to regions affected by malaria.

Of course, the people who live in areas with malaria do not have the option to protect themselves by staying away. And if you're looking for a good cause to give money to, the fight against malaria definitely qualifies as a worthy cause.

Unicef is working to reduce malaria infections in children by providing families in affected areas with mosquito nets treated with insecticide:
Ensuring children sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) is the most effective way to prevent malaria. These bed nets have been shown to reduce malaria transmission by up to 50 per cent. As many as 500,000 children could be saved every year if all children under the age of five in Africa slept under treated bed nets. Not only do ITNs provide a physical barrier to prevent mosquitoes from biting children, they can actually kill mosquitoes and other insects. In a Kenyan study, women who slept under ITNs at night gave birth to 25 per cent fewer premature or low birth weight babies than women who did not use ITNs.
You can find more information, resources and stories at the World Malaria day website.

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009

Photo thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

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