It was World Mosquito Day on Saturday and while that may not sound like the most exciting day to anyone who isn't an insect lover, it did provide us with the perfect opportunity to debunk some of the myths related to both mosquitoes and the transmission of malaria.
What is World Mosquito Day?
World Mosquito Day is an annual commemoration of the British Doctor Sir Ronald Ross; his discovery in 1987 successfully linked mosquitoes to the transmission of malaria and fueled decades of research into finding a cure for the disease. Fast forward to today and unfortunately we are still fighting the battle against malaria but World Mosquito Day falls on the 20th of August each year, with the idea behind it being to promote safe practice in mosquito prone areas, to generate funds to help with research into cures against mosquito transmitted diseases and to celebrate Dr Ross' groundbreaking discovery.
What exactly is Malaria?
Malaria is a tropical disease that is spread by mosquitoes. Symptoms usually appear between 7 and 18 days after becoming infected and while it can be fatal if it isn't treated promptly, there are a number of things that you can do to avoid being bitten in the first place.
Fact and Fiction:
First things first though, there are a number of mosquito and malaria myths floating around in the world that definitely need addressing so that you know exactly what you're dealing with!
FICTION: Garlic and marmite will keep mosquitos away
FACT: There is the belief that smelly foods, notably garlic and marmite, will keep the mosquitoes away but there is no scientific evidence to back this up. Instead focus your efforts on applying insect repellant, cover your arms and legs when you're in high risk areas and use mosquito nets at night while you're sleeping.
FICTION: Mosquitos die after feeding
FACT: Unfortunately this isn't true, the female mosquitoes live on to feed again which is why it's so important to put in place preventative methods.
FICTION: Once you get malaria you will have it for the rest of your life
FACT: Once you've had malaria you are no longer eligible to donate blood but this does not mean that you still have the disease. While it is true that some strains of malaria can remain dormant in your liver, relapses do not often occur and with most strains, once you've received sufficient treatment you will be free from malaria.
Who is at risk from malaria?
No one can be completely immune from malaria but there are certain people who suffer more severely from infection and areas where the disease is more prevalent.
Typically pregnant women, babies, young children and the elderly experience much more severe effects of malaria and pregnant women in particularly are usually advised not to travel within malaria risk areas.
As it stands at the moment malaria is mainly found in the tropical regions of the world, including:
• Areas of Africa and Asia
• Central and South America
• Haiti and the Dominican Republic
• Areas in the Middle East
• Some Pacific Islands
It's important to be aware of the risks of visiting these areas and you should speak to your GP if you're planning to visit one of these regions but it shouldn't put you off travelling there altogether. If you would like more specific information on certain countries, both the Fit For Travel and National Travel Health Network and Centre websites have in-depth information on precise areas.
• The first thing that you need to do is to make an appointment with your doctor several weeks before you're due to travel, this will enable you to check whether or not you need to take malaria prevention tablets. If you do, it's important to make sure that you're taking the right tables at the right dose and that you finish the course.
• Typically mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn, so whenever possible it's advisable to avoid being outdoors during these times. The temperature and the humidity levels during these timeframes are perfect for the blood sucking insects, so avoid spending prolonged periods of time outdoors in the early mornings and late evenings to reduce the number of mosquito bites that you get.
• Mosquitoes can't see in colours, instead they see heat patterns. Try to wear light coloured clothing whenever you can, the light will bounce off them and they will therefore absorb less heat, making you less visible to the mozzy's!
• When you're heading outdoors try to avoid wearing perfumes and other products that have a floral or sweet smell to them as mosquitoes are attracted to these scents.
• Cover your bed with a mosquito net to avoid being bitten while you sleep!
• Avoid staying in areas that are located close by to stagnant or still water as these are the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
• Mosquitoes are attracted to CO2. The heavier you breathe, the more CO2 you expel so try to avoid doing intensive exercise when you're travelling within mosquito prone areas. If that's not possible, try not to exercise during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
• Finally and perhaps most importantly, insect repellent should become your best friend when you're travelling within mosquito dense areas. It is your best defense against the insects and it's important that you not only apply it in the morning but that you constantly reapply it throughout the day. Where possible find a product with DEET in it because it has proven to be the most effective repellant on the market.
Of course it is impossible to entirely avoid being bitten but as mosquitoes typically only infect 1 in 4 of those that they bite with malaria these preventative methods should greatly reduce your chance of transmitting the disease. However, it is still vital that you make an appointment to see your GP several weeks before you're due to fly out of the country as they will be able to give you direct advice for the specific area that you're travelling to. After that, if you still have questions related to malaria then the NHS website is the best place to head for full medical advice.
By Shannon Clark - Online Journalism Intern
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