Antimalarial Drugs: Are they worth it?
There are countless things to prepare before setting off for your travels. Plane tickets, visas, insurance, clothing & accessories, immunizations, currency exchange, location research,… The list drags on & on as your brain ticks over & tries to account for all eventualities on the long & winding road.
If your travelling to South East Asia, you’d better add antimalarial medication to that list as well. Or should you?
To advise you not to worry about antimalarial medication would sound fairly absurd,exacerbated by the fact I’m not a doctor! “Don’t worry about antimalarials?!?! Malaria is one of the nastiest diseases you can catch!!” True. Even scarier is the fact that malaria changes its viral form on an undetermined cycle, much the same as HIV, making it near impossible to get rid of once infected!! Very scary!
… But here are some facts before you decide to invest in antimalarial drugs:
- Antimalarial drugs DO NOT stop you getting malaria. This maybe the most damning point of evidence to undermine the necessity of antimalarials. The pills cannot stop you contracting malaria. Even if you take them as prescribed they will not immunize the threat of contracting malaria no matter how expensive your medication is!
Well why take them at all?!
- WELL, antimalarial drugs DO protect you in the instance of contracting a deadly strain of malaria. If you are unlucky enough to contract a deadly string of the malaria virus antimalarials will benefit you. The pills can slow down the effects of the virus in this instance & give you more time to reach a hospital. You will of course still be carrying the virus but you will also be alive! You could die within 48 hours of contraction. The pills will probably give you an extra 2 days to find help.
Well then I must take them!?
- BUT, the chances of contracting a deadly strain of malaria in South East Asia are well below 0.1%. The World Health Organisation, the WHO, are the go-to guys for statistics & advice on health. Their data purports that there are between 100-1000 malaria cases per 100,000 people. That is somewhere between 0.1 & 1% that you will get malaria. Plasmodium falciparum is the malaria strain responsible for around 95% of all malaria related deaths, with a mortality rate of 1-3%. Thus, the chances of you contracting this strain & it being a deadly form are miniscule, below 0.0003%. This is obviously a very simplified equation removing complex variables, but the gist is, it’s HIGHLY unlikely you’d be that unfortunate!
It is also worth noting…:
- Where are you going?! – If you are sticking to areas of high tourist density you may not require antimalarial drugs at all. Malaria is non-existent in most of the larger urban areas & tourist hotspots in South East Asia. Click here for the CDC’s country list of malaria areas
- Prevention is better than cure – It is more important to make sure you have preventative measures against the dreaded mosquitoes. The best way to protect yourself from malaria (& dengue fever) is to avoid being bitten at all! Mosquito nets, repellents containing DEET, mosquito coils, dressing sensibly & avoiding stagnant water & unsealed accommodation are all great prevention methods & will reduce your chances of being bitten.
- Dengue fever – Leading on from prevention, dengue fever is another deadly disease contracted by mosquitoes & is actually more common than malaria. There are no tablets to ‘protect’ you from dengue so prevention methods are your only defence.
- Antimalarials can have bad side-effects – This is obviously on a case by case basis but people do get some terrible side effects from taking anti-malarial pills. Side-effects include headaches, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety… to name a few!!
- Antimalarials are expensive – Depending on what tablets you purchase antimalarials tend to be expensive. The cheapest option is doxycycline but this can still be costly, & of course the cheaper the malarials, the less protection your guaranteed.
You should obviously still consult your doctor about antimalarial medication before heading to South East Asia. Just be aware that their over-zealous prescription may not be necessary & the final decision is in your hands. YOU must determine how much you value antimalarial medication. The information above are just some facts your doctor may not tell you so you can make a fully informed decision.
Here are some useful websites with LOTS of extra information:
- Shaw Treatment – Malaria Facts
- The WHO on Malaria
- The CDC on Malaria
- Wikipedia on Malaria
- Plasmodium falciparum info
- Reuters’ Malaria Factbox
~ Rhys ~