Anyone serious about African safaris is serious about malaria. The sheer number of deaths caused by this parasitic disease simply puts the mosquito as the number 1 most dangerous animal in the world. Ten children will have died of malaria in the time it takes you to read this blog. I have never sat around a camp fire whilst on safari without malaria being discussed one way or the other. Some fantastic stories persist, and here are some really good ones:
1) Gin and tonic will stop me from getting malaria. As a matter of fact, it once did. The British consumed tonic water to prevent malaria during colonial days, and due to the bitterness of its quinine content they added gin (surprise, here comes the alcohol). These days tonic water hardly contains quinine, and you’d have to drink some 150 litres per day – even if you’d manage this, I suggest you do not mix it with gin.
2) I keep mosquitoes at bay with ultrasonic devices. This nonsense persists simply because from time to time industry tries to fool us into buying such gadgets. They supposedly produce high-frequency male mosquito sounds that would keep the female away from you. Not so. In fact, selling such gadgets ought to be viewed as unethical.
3) I eat lots of garlic and drink my beer. Numerous stories about food sources that reduce your attractiveness to mosquitoes persist. Fact is that there is hardly any evidence that garlic and Vitamin B affects the number of bites you’ll receive. Although it is indeed likely that consumption of garlic alters your body odour profile and thus the smells female mosquitoes use to track you down at night, the causal link between eating garlic and attractiveness to mosquitoes remains very weak. And for the Brits, no, Marmite won’t help you either.
4) I’ll only be there for a few days. The length of your stay doesn’t matter – all it takes is one bite, one single bite from an infected mosquito. Between 1987-2006, in the UK alone, some 39,300 travellers returned home with malaria. So better be safe than sorry and take preventive measures .
5) I stay in luxurious hygienic places. Hungry female mosquitoes ignore the price you’ve paid for your accommodation. Although luxurious places often do better in terms of keeping mosquitoes out (screening, bednets), once you sit on your veranda at night you’ll be on the mosquito menu.
6) There is no malaria-risk in urban centres. Even this doesn’t hold. Many large urban centres that you will spend a night or two in before and after your safari have malaria. Though most cities were free of malaria during colonial days because of laws banning intra-urban agricultural practices, such activities have returned and are providing superb breeding sites for mosquitoes.
7) My partner always gets bitten so I don’t need to worry. It is indeed true that, given a choice, female malaria mosquitoes will preferentially select one of you. If you’re the lucky one, don’t count yourself rich – if your partner is not around you will still be bitten and run the risk of contracting disease.
All good stories, but none of these hold any truth in them. There is only one truth: Stick to the advice given to you by your healthcare professional. Always, without fail.