Stay Safe and Prevent Malaria Bites

Malaria is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Not only is it a life-threatening illness. Nor does it make you incredibly sick, even if you manage a full recovery.

It’s the timing that is so bad. For most people reading this article, malaria bites when you’re on the adventure of a lifetime, to a country you always dreamed of visiting. Like an African safari. It completely ruins the safari and turns adventure into disaster.

There is no malaria vaccination. It’s a risk you will have to put up with. However, by minimising mosquito bites you drastically reduce the risk.

I’ve spent a huge amount of time in Africa and haven’t contracted malaria – by following these five basic tips you should be fine as well.

How Widespread is Malaria in Africa?

Did you know that some of Africa’s most wildlife-rich wildernesses were left untouched because of malaria? The disease was one of the best things to slow down colonialists who took over the continent. They didn’t venture to places where malaria was especially rife.

One of those is the Serengeti Masai Mara ecosystem. With so much malaria around the area wasn’t explored, a good thing considering how much wildlife was slaughtered when the colonialists arrived. So although it’s not a pleasant thing, you can thank malaria for keeping some incredible ecosystems untouched by man.

Even today you’ll find that the deepest and most remote stretches of bushland are where malaria is most common. These places are where you’ll find the greatest abundance of wild mammals. And that means you must take precautions when going on safari.

Tip Number 1: Consider Anti-Malarial Tablets

While they are not 100 % efficient, anti-malarial tablets are often recommended for travellers exploring regions at risk.

Prophylactic malaria medicines are usually taken a few days to a week before departure, throughout the trip, and 1-4 weeks after travel as the malaria parasites could still be in one’s blood.

Malarone anti-malarial tablets in a box of 12.

Generally speaking, there are three types of anti-malarial medicines on the market: Mefloquine (such as Lariam or Mefaquin) and Atovaquone/Proguanil (like Malarone). Please consult your doctor beforehand as such products may cause severe and permanent side effects.

For sensitive people, a good alternative is Doxycycline. The side effects aren’t as severe, although it does make you very susceptible to alcohol.

NB: Doxycycline makes you sunburn easily, so you should wear a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen whenever in outside daylight.

Tip Number 2: Use Mosquito Repellent

A good mosquito repellent is compulsory between 6 PM and 6 AM. Apply the product to the skin (around neck, arms, legs and ankles), and to clothing for best protection. You should apply it before dusk, the time when mosquitoes come out to feed.

What is a good mosquito repellent?

The best mosquito repellent is a product that contains at least 20% of DEET, the most active ingredient in insect repellents.

This particular example of mosquito repellent contains 30% of DEET.

Effective alternatives to DEET oils include Citriodiol, nature’s most effective insect repellent (produced from eucalyptus Citriodora oil), Citronella or Picaridin. The latter is apparently more pleasant to use. It is relatively odourless, and has a gentle, clean feel to it.

Tip Number 3: Sleep with a Mosquito Net

Sleeping with a mosquito net is also a great way to prevent mosquito bites, although it can be quite annoying when the insects get trapped underneath your apparel. 🙂 To further your chances of a good night sleep, spray your net with Permethrin.

Funny Mosquito Quote

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” ― Betty Reese

Tip Number 4: Wear Long Sleeves and Pants After Dark

Try to “camouflage” yourself at dusk and dawn, when the nasty little creatures are most active.

Also wear neutral colours (light-coloured clothing). Dark colours tend to attract the insects.

Tip Number 5: Control your Diet

Do you have a sweet tooth? Mosquitoes are very fond of sugar, their major fuel for energy and flight.

In other words, people with higher sugar intake are arguably more prone to mosquito bites.

Mosquito going for the bite: a “refreshful” treat!

Might be a good excuse to start a little “regime” and avoid some of those cakes and yummy pastries! 😉 Most sweet rolls contain yeast which, once exuded through the pores, alters one’s smell. Mosquitoes can pick up those odors from miles away!

Other Useful Tips

  • Switch off unnecessary lighting, as mosquitoes are attracted to it.
  • Use mosquito coils under your bed or dining table to repel the insects. Mosquito coils are highly effective (despite their somewhat uninviting smell), and can last up to 8 hours.
  • Don’t use too much perfume, deodorant or after-shave. Mosquitoes are more attracted to it than anyone else around you.

Did You Know? Interesting Mosquito-Related Facts

  • Mosquitoes can literally “smell” your blood from as far as 50m away.
  • Only the female mosquito feeds on human blood, which contains protein used by the insect to lay its eggs. Consequently, only female specimens transmit the malaria disease.
  • A common misconception states that “mosquitoes can transmit the HIV virus”, yet this is not true. In fact, HIV cannot survive in the mosquito.

Preventing Mosquito Bites (and Malaria) – Final Tip

These tips are relatively easy for anyone to follow. Cover up, use repellent, sleep with a mosquito net and remember the anti-malarial tablets. The challenge is to remember them all the time.

Mosquitoes love to strike when you’re unprepared. It only takes one evening for your ankles to be covered in bites. So my most important tip is to always be prepared.

That means thinking about mosquitoes every day you’re on safari. It only takes a few minutes to cover up and slap on some repellent. And those few minutes can be the difference between a life-threatening illness and the safari adventure of a lifetime.