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Mosquitos, Malaria and Your Safari

Male lion on game drive at savanna

I am often aware that the safari industry blithely talks about malaria areas and non-malaria areas (or malaria-free) in terms of our safari destinations. Without adequately explaining why certain areas are malarial and others are not…

The truth is that nearly all safaris, with some notable exceptions, are in malarial areas. So 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 malaria and mosquitoes.

Car driving in woodland.
Antelope in Okavango Delta Moremi Game Reserve
Mosquitos & malaria

What is Malaria?

Malaria infection is caused by protozoan of the genus Plasmodium. (This is the only bit of latin in this blog!) Infection begins with a bite from an infected mosquito. There are four species of Plasmodium that infect humans. Each has a different geographical spread, severity, type of symptoms and treatment.

Transmission of malaria usually coincides with the rainy season and is affected by climate and geography. 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.

Malaria-free Game Reserves in South Africa

Which areas are non-malarial for African Safaris?

Malarial areas in South Africa

Most safari regions are malarial to some degree. The exceptions are all in South Africa. The non-malarial safari areas are: Waterberg, Madikwe, Eastern Cape, Western Cape (Garden Route, Sanbona) & Northern Cape (Tswalu).

Here is a map from the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) showing Southern Africa and the malarial regions.

You will see that the only areas of South Africa where you need to take anti-malarial medication are in the Kruger and the far north of Kwa-Zulu Natal. You do also need to take it in the northern part of Namibia, northern Botswana and ALL the other safari destinations (eg Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Zambia, East and Central Africa as well as Malawi and Mozambique).

Want to know more about Malaria-free Game Reserves?

Head over to our blog post about malaria-free game reserves and learn more

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Adjacent to these, malaria areas in South Africa are low risk malaria areas where you do not need to take malaria pills but you should avoid getting bitten. This would include the safari areas of KwaZulu Natal for example. (This information was correct at time of publication but should always be checked by visiting a Travel Clinic of Medical Doctor prior to travel.)

However with sensible precautions, malaria is not a serious concern for your safari. See why below…

Discover South Africa

What do mosquitoes like?

Yes, 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:

1) Warmth
2) Water
3) People

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1. Warmth

This is why certain areas in South Africa are only seasonal malaria 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 really 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.

2. Water

The other reason why the winter months of May to August are generally malaria and mosquito-free in South Africa, and some of the rest of Southern Africa, is that this is the dry season where little to 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…

3. People

Prevention at the Safari Lodges

The first thing to say is that the 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. They also may add mosquito nets around beds. So you can have the windows open without worrying about insects.

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.

Malaria-free Safari Options

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. You will also be able to stock up when you arrive in the country. But it is usually best to have have sorted out prevention ahead of time.
  • Spray yourself with insect repellent in the late afternoon just before sunset. Especially around the ankles.
  • Wear sock & shoes in the evenings and cover your arms & back so that you are not so easily bitten without knowing about 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. Just to be on the safe side.
  • Malaria is generally very treatable as long as it is correctly diagnosed and doesn’t linger in your system untreated.

Note: Malaria for safari visitors is extremely rare. Just to put it in context, none of our clients have ever contracted malaria. However people living in these areas for many months are more at risk.

African Queen
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Boat on the river in front of a sunset

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Though malaria is a major disease in Africa, it is also important to put it into perspective. 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).

If you have young children, are pregnant or particularly concerned, you can opt to visit a non-malarial area in South Africa. (Such reserves are ONLY in South Africa.) See our post on Malaria-free Game Reserves

But please note that, though the game-viewing in the non-malaria areas has improved dramatically, it still remains that the very top wildlife reserves of Africa are still in malaria areas.

Wondering what you should wear whilst on safari?

Ensuring you remain covered is a great precaution to take when it comes to mosquito bites. Download our guide on what to wear on safari to learn more about what you should be packing in your suitcase.

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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 they will take their older children to the Kruger at that time of year…

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About the Authors – Cederberg Africa

Cederberg Africa is a Specialist Safari expert for Southern and East Africa. We arrange tailor-made safari holidays for our clients. Because of our long-standing buying power in the industry, our prices are also very competitive. Which means that you will not pay more than if you booked direct, or with an online travel agency. But the different is that you have access to our 25+ years of expertise and 1st-hand experience.

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