Common Myths Regarding Malaria

  • “It is better not to take any prophylaxis, as it masks the symptoms and makes diagnosis difficult”

This is incorrect. Prophylactic drugs suppress parasite development, and therefore, even if not totally effective (due to partial drug resistance or non-compliance), symptoms tend to take longer to appear, may be less severe at first and development of complications is retarded. In the complete absence of drugs, parasites are able to multiply at phenomenal rates, and malaria can quickly get out of hand, and lead to severe complications and death.

  • “There is this new deadly strain of malaria”


Cerebral malaria is not a new strain; it is a complication of untreated Falciparum malaria. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment should ensure that no one gets cerebral malaria.


  • “Malaria cannot be cured”


Malaria can indeed be cured with the appropriate drugs. Due to drug resistance to certain drugs, it may take several attempts with different (combinations of) drugs to effect a complete cure.


  • “Prophylaxis need only be taken while in a malaria area”


The drugs that we have to prevent malaria are known as blood schizontocides, which means that they work on the parasite once it enters the red blood cells. This does not occur until 10-14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. If the drug is stopped before the parasites reach the blood cells, there will not be enough in the blood to kill the parasites and the prophylaxis will fail. It is therefore extremely important to continue taking prophylaxis for 7 days or 4 weeks after leaving a malaria area (dependant on the drug used).


  • “The drugs are worse than the disease.”


Antimalarials, like any other drug, do have side effects on some people, and in varying degrees. However only 15-20% of people experience side effects, and these are usually tolerable, with severe adverse reactions being rare. Malaria is potentially fatal and causes severe illness and discomfort which could land you in hospital and out of action for weeks.


  • “If I take an antimalarial, there will be nothing left to treat me if I do get malaria.”


There are numerous different drugs and drug regimes available for the fast and effective treatment of malaria. The use of one prophylactic, does not exclude the future use of another antimalarial should the need arise.


  • “I will be visiting the area outside of the malaria season, so I do not need prophylaxis”


Although transmission decreases during the “off” season, infective mosquitoes may still be active in the off season, just in lower concentrations. One still needs to take protective measures.


  • “Drinking Gin and Tonic or Rum will prevent mosquitoes from biting me, and will safeguard me against contracting malaria.”


There is no scientific evidence that either will protect you against mosquito bites. Malaria is a potentially fatal disease that requires proper preventative measures to be implemented.


  • “I wasn’t bitten, can I stop taking my prophylaxis?”


The female anopheles mosquito is not known as ‘the silent killer’ for nothing. She does not buzz around your head at night, irritating you. You may not be aware of her presence at all. The reaction to her bite may also not be as pronounced as it is with other bloodsucking insects and you may be unaware of having been bitten.