In the last week or so I've been asked quite a few questions about my malaria. Here are a few and some of their answers:
- Isn't there a vaccine against malaria? Were you immunized? No, as of this time there is no vaccine that can prevent malaria. So no, I've not been immunized.
- What exactly is malaria? It is a parasite that gets into the bloodstream. Because it is in the bloodstream and the red blood cells, it pretty much has effects on the entire body. The type of malaria I had is called Faliciparum and is actually one of the worst of the four types.
- How do you get malaria? The parasite is carried by the anopheles mosquito. The mosquito bites an infected person and then becomes an infected carrier. It takes about a week to ten days before that mosquito can bite an uninfected person and spread the infection. Once an individual is bitten by the infected mosquito it takes a minimum of seven to ten days for the parasite to multiply enough for symptoms to begin.
- Why is it that Westerners get so much sicker than nationals when they get malaria? I became so sick because of a few factors. Firstly I had never had malaria in my life and so thus I had not built up any immunity or natural resistance to the disease. My immune system was overloaded and didn't know how to effectively fight, causing me to become very sick. Secondly I had a resistant strain of malaria. So the first and even second-line drugs I was given were not effective in killing the parasite. I required the strongest IV therapies available in order to knock the parasite out.
- What are the symptoms? Basically the worst flu of your life! It usually starts with a headache then moves into high fevers, chills, body aches, vomiting and diarrhea. Some people also get lung and kidney involvement. At it's worst it can invade the brain causing cerebral malaria which is often fatal. I did not get cerebral malaria. My fevers were staying in the 104 range while taking medications that are supposed to lower fevers. Because my immune system was so overloaded from trying to fight the malaria I also wound up with a urinary tract infection, respiratory infection and tonsillitis before I was admitted to the hospital.
- Now that you have had malaria are you immune to getting it again? Unfortunately no, many of the cases that I treat at the clinic are individuals who have had malaria dozens of times. However, with each exposure to the malaria the immune system theoretically should be a bit stronger and more effective in fighting it.
- Are there medications that can prevent malaria and do you take them? Although no drug is a 100% sure thing, there are medications that you can take to help prevent malaria. I highly recommend that anyone traveling to a malaria endemic area take these medications. However because I live in Kenya and plan to be here long-term it isn't so practical for me to be taking these strong drugs for every day of my life.