Malaria in the Kruger Park

Malaria is a disease caused by an infection with a parasite (a type of germ). Mosquitoes carry the parasite and spread it to people by biting them.

Malaria is common in many countries. It occurs in South Africa and is present in the Kruger National Park, which is classified as a low risk area. High season is October to April, but malaria can be contracted at any time of the year. Malaria can be mild or severe. Severe malaria can cause serious health problems and even death. The strain of malaria that commonly occurs in the park is Plasmodium Falciparum.

The symptoms of malaria are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Stomach problems – These can include:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin that looks yellow – This is called “jaundice.”
  • Cough
  • Fast heart rate or breathing

Severe malaria can cause other symptoms, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not really there
  • Seizures
  • Dark or bloody urine

If you travel to an area where malaria is common, taking medicine can help keep you from getting it. Your local doctor can prescribe medicine if you need it. Take it exactly as the doctor tells you, or it might not work.

As the Kruger Park is classified as low risk, some people may decide not to take malaria prophylaxis. This is acceptable as long as the patient is informed about the symptoms of malaria and goes for a malaria test for any fever or malaria-like symptoms occurring up to 4 weeks after leaving the malaria area.

You can also reduce your risk by preventing mosquito bites. To do this, you can:

  • Stay inside at night – This means any time after sunset and before sunrise.
  • Wear shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when you go outside.
  • Wear bug spray or cream that contains DEET or a chemical called picaridin.
  • Sleep in a building with good screens over the windows and doors or air conditioning. Or, you can sleep under a bed net treated with bug spray.
  • People can get malaria even while taking medicine to prevent it. If you get sick during or after travel to an area where malaria is common, and you were taking malaria medicine, see a doctor or nurse. Be sure to tell him or her you traveled to an area that has malaria and that you were taking medicine.

The choice of malaria prophylaxis needs to be made in consultation with your doctor. The different drugs have different side effects, and a full history and examination will need to be performed to determine the drug that is best suited to the patient. Drugs that are effectively used as prophylaxis in the Kruger Park are Doxycycline, Mefloquine and Atovaquone-Proguanil.

Malaria can be treated at any age, contrary to popular belief, although the disease may tend to complicate more often in younger children.

Pregnant women have a higher risk of getting malaria than other people, and they can get much sicker. Malaria can cause the following problems:

  • A miscarriage – This is when a pregnancy ends on its own before a woman has been pregnant for 20 weeks.
  • A baby that is born too small, too early, or infected with malaria
  • Death of the mother or baby – The baby could die before or after birth.

Chemoprophylaxis is advised for pregnant women traveling to a malaria area. The agent of choice is Mefloquine.

If you have a fever while in the Kruger National Park and you are concerned that you have malaria, present to the doctors in Skukuza to arrange the necessary investigations to exclude malaria.