I am often aware that the safari industry blithely talks about malaria areas and non-malaria areas (or malaria-free) in terms of your safari. Without adequately explaining why certain areas are malarial and others are not…
This article aims to help you make an informed choice as to which area to choose – especially if you are a family, or you have specific concerns about mosquitoes and malaria.
What is malaria?
Malaria infection is caused by protozoan of the genus Plasmodium. Infection begins with a bite from an infected mosquito. There are four species of Plasmodium that infect humans. Each with a different geographical spread, type of symptoms, severity and treatment.
Transmission of malaria is affected by climate and geography and usually coincides with the rainy season. Humans are infected with the parasite by only certain types of mosquitoes. Anopheline mosquitoes are active as dusk falls and throughout the night. So if you see a mosquito at 2 pm in the afternoon, (which is unusual but can happen), it is highly unlikely to be a carrier of malaria.
Prevention at the Safari Lodges
The first thing to say is that many safari lodges make a concerted effort to reduce the impact of mosquitoes around the lodge or camp. They spray the chalets with eco-friendly anti-mosquito repellent. Or they put screens on windows or mosquito nets around beds. So you can have the windows open without worrying about insects.
What do mosquitoes like?
Most of Africa is malarial. However malaria prevalence varies from high risk to low risk; year round to seasonal. So as you consider which areas you want to visit, keep the following factors in mind. These will help you understand why the safari industry says certain areas are worse for malaria than others. Mosquito prevalence is partially a function of three variables:
This is why certain malaria areas in South Africa are only seasonal areas. It is simply too cold at night for the mosquitoes to survive in the South African winter and spring months (typically May to mid September). During these months you will not have to worry. Even elsewhere in Southern Africa mosquito activity will be much less. Similarly much of Tanzania and Kenya, given their high altitudes, have cooler evenings and consequently much less mosquito activity.
The other reason why the winter months are generally malaria and mosquito-free in South Africa, and much of the rest of Southern Africa, is that this is the dry season when little or no rain falls. Mosquitoes thrive when there is plenty of surface water during the hot summer rains. So if you plan your safari for August, you will be facing a much lower malaria risk than if you plan your safari for February…
Malaria is an infection of the blood that is carried from person to person by mosquitoes. If a mosquito bites an infected person, that mosquito can then carry the infection to another person. So malaria thrives in high density areas. This is why malaria is more of a concern in densely populated areas such as Victoria Falls or southern Mozambique than in more sparsely populated areas such as the Okavango Delta or the Makgadigadi pans.
Precautions for both Mosquitoes and Malaria
- See your doctor or travel clinic prior to travel and tell them exactly where you are travelling to. Anti-malaria prophylaxis varies by region.
- Spray yourself with insect repellant in the late afternoon just before sunset.
- Wear sock & shoes in the evenings and cover your arms & back so that you are not so easily bitten without you knowing it.
- If you suffer from flu-like symptoms up to two weeks after travelling to a malaria-area, then go to your doctor to be tested.
- Malaria is generally very treatable as long as it is correctly diagnosed and doesn’t linger in your system untreated.
Though malaria is a major disease in Africa, it is also important to put it in context. If you are worried, then lessen the risk by visiting at a lower risk time ie. the dry winter months (typically May to mid September).
It’s important to also note that, though the game-viewing in some of the non-malaria areas has improved dramatically in recent years, generally the world class wildlife reserves of Africa are still in malaria areas.
CAVEAT: On a safari, as in life, there are no guarantees. We are not saying there is no risk of mosquitoes and malaria at all at certain times of year, only that the risk is much lower. We are not doctors and so you should always seek medical advice. Your doctor will recommend malaria precautions year round for a declared malaria area, but in reality the risks do vary by season. Thus South Africans will generally not take any malaria precautions in the dry winter months, and will take their children to the Kruger at that time of year…