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Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Bringing malaria home

More than half of Britons fail to take proper precautions before setting off for exotic holiday destinations, according to a survey by GPs and the Association of British Travel Agents.

But, as 24-year-old management consultant Tom White* found out, even following medical advice cannot safeguard travellers from falling seriously ill with diseases such as malaria.

"I went travelling in Africa for two months last summer, going from Kenya to Cape Town. It was just before starting a new job.
Mosquito
Repellent: Avoid the bite

To avoid malaria, the idea is to not get bitten by mosquitoes in the first place. I'd say I was averagely careful, but it's almost impossible to avoid them.

I took a prophylactic against malaria, but I didn't take the appropriate one. There are two kinds of drugs and I used the less effective one.

Before going away I took a Larium pill, the stronger prophylactic, but it gave me nasty side effects - as it tends to do.

Bitter pill

I took the other pills for the required length of time, before, during and after I'd left the infected area. Unfortunately, they're not 100% effective.

After returning home it took from September to the Christmas holidays for the malaria to begin to show itself.
Safari
Exotic destinations may be more risky

I didn't know what the symptoms of the disease were and assumed that it would have hit straight away, while I was still in Africa.

It all happened very fast, when it did hit. It's like flu - you feel incredibly weak, nauseous and your temperature shoots up. Then everything goes away and you feel almost normal again.

It goes in cycles. Soon I was having a temperature of 104 for six hours out of every 24. Then I began to shake uncontrollably, which is interesting.

Vicious cycle

I didn't really realise it was malaria, but I knew something dodgy was going on.

I had two weeks of fever over the Christmas period. It was misdiagnosed by the doctors. There was a flu epidemic and they were pretty busy.
Flu sufferer
Malaria is often mistaken for flu

I went to the GP and he gave me antibiotics for a throat infection. Doctors can't really do anything unless they have all the facts and those in the UK aren't really used to treating tropical diseases.

It wasn't until after the holidays that a blood test revealed I had vivax malaria. There are several types, some fatal. Vivax isn't too nasty, but it's been debilitating.

When I finally went into hospital I was anaemic and had to have a blood transfusion. They gave me two pints or something like that.

End of an episode

They gave me chloroquine, to kill off what they call "the episode". This attacks the malaria in your blood stream. I then had another drug to kill off the malaria in my liver.

This was given at quite a low dosage and didn't rid my liver of the disease. Subsequently I had a relapse and I needed a mega-dose to sort things out.
Larium
The drugs work, to a point

All that did was poison me and send my blood blue.

I don't regret going to Africa. You go away knowing the risks.

Since the illness surfaced I've had three months off work.

Fortunately I've got an employer willing to give me sick leave without sacking me. They're quite a decent bunch."


* The subject's name has been changed at his request.
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See also:

31 May 00 | Health
Holidaymakers 'risk disease'
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
Malaria
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