Caught the Travel Bug?

Several malaria cases have popped up in the southern United States. Learn more on how you can protect loved ones against these travel-related infections.

Dr. Satish Mocherla and Ashley Guidry

Infectious diseases develop when bacteria, parasites or viruses enter your body and multiply. From there infections form and disease develops when the cells in your body get damaged.

Malaria is a parasitic infectious disease that spreads to humans through bites of mosquitoes carrying the malarial parasite. Although the symptoms are flu-like, malaria is not contagious. The only way to get infected is from mosquito bites or blood transfusions. Symptoms of malaria include:

  • Fever.
  • Sweats and chills.
  • Headaches.
  • Muscle pains.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Similar to the flu, symptoms are not specific and could appear in many other infections.

However, in a case of severe malaria, clinical findings for a patient can be organ failure, severe anemia or respiratory difficulties. Lab tests must be done for confirmation and to pinpoint the severity of a case of malaria. Infants, children, elders and pregnant adults are at high risk of complications due to malaria.

Malaria signs can appear a few weeks after getting bitten by a mosquito. However, some types of malaria can stay dormant in your body for up to a year or more. Malaria is a curable infection, however delays in treatment are the leading cause of death in patients.

Seven malaria cases have appeared in the U.S., six in Florida and one in Cameron, Texas. The cases in the two states so far have been deemed unrelated. The patients are currently getting treatment in their respective hospitals. Although local mosquito-transmitted malaria is suspected in these last few cases of malaria in the USA, most malaria cases are imported.

People who travel to large areas in Africa, Latin America and some countries in Asia, are at a high risk of acquiring the infection because malaria is more common in these regions. This can be prevented by taking medications before, during and after travel.

Yellow fever is another infection that is transmitted through mosquitoes, unlike malaria, this is a viral illness. Travelers who are not properly vaccinated are at high risk of contracting this infection when bit by a mosquito carrying the virus. Yellow fever is usually a milder illness compared to malaria but a small percentage of infection can lead to a serious illness with jaundice and bleeding.

“Many other diseases like malaria can spread through bugs other than mosquitoes, like ticks, fleas or lice (vectors). These are often called vector-borne diseases,” said Legacy’s Associate Medical Director Dr. Satish Mocherla. The cause for these illnesses may be a virus, parasite or bacteria.

Lyme disease is an infection that is common among travelers in the summer. It is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through a tick bite, not a mosquito. It is always best to travel with bug spray containing DEET to prevent bites. Wearing loose-fitted and long-sleeved clothing are also beneficial. Setting up screens on windows and doors can stop bugs from entering your space as well.

Before traveling anywhere, be proactive about your health and do your research. Refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Yellow Book on what infections to look out for and how to protect yourself.