Malaria transmission in South Africa is seasonal and September to May are malaria or high-season months. The summer rains during the first quarter of the year bring with them an increase in the number of malaria cases, and malaria transmission is at its highest during the warmer and wetter months of November through to April, with a peak in January and February.
An increase in the number of malaria cases has been noted in the low season of 2017 compared to the low season of 2016. Between June and August 2016 there were 794 cases, but in the same period in 2017 there were 2 238 cases.
The higher rainfall along with the warmer temperatures experienced during that time, could be the reason for the increase in the number of cases in the winter of 2017.
Malaria is a parasitic disease that is transmitted by mosquito vectors of the Anopheles genus. In South Africa the malaria risk areas or endemic areas are the north-eastern parts of Limpopo with a higher risk closer to the Limpopo River Valley, Lowveld areas of Mpumalanga including the Kruger National Park (KNP), and the far northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal bordering Mozambique. Residents of and travellers/tourists to malaria risk areas must remain vigilant of malaria and make use of anti-mosquito measures to avoid being bitten. The use of malaria chemo prophylactic drugs is advised.
Commonly misdiagnosed as flu, which is more common during winter, malaria presents itself as bouts of fever accompanied by cold or flu-like symptoms, alternating with periods of absence of feeling sick. Intermittent symptoms include headache, malaise, fatigue, nausea, muscular pains, chills and even diarrhoea. People in endemic areas or those who have recently visited such an area should consult a physician or healthcare practitioner immediately when these symptoms appear.
Malaria treatment is highly effective if administered during the early stages of the disease. Symptoms of complicated or severe malaria can develop quickly and include delirium, generalised convulsions, impaired consciousness and respiratory distress.
Awareness of malaria and the risks associated with it, especially in high-risk areas, is the first step towards prevention, which is always better than cure. People need to be made aware of the disease in order to protect themselves, even if they do not live in an endemic area.
When living in or travelling to a malaria area, consider the following to avoid being bitten (also useful for non-malaria mosquitoes):
- Avoid going out between dusk and dawn (when Anopheles mosquitoes usually feed);
- Wear long-sleeved clothing if going out at night;
- Avoid wearing dark colours because they attract mosquitoes;
- Apply DEET-containing insect repellent to exposed skin;
- Use screens over windows and doors;
- Use anti-mosquito sprays or insecticide dispensers, or burn mosquito coils at night; and
- Sleep under bed nets if available.
Source: University of Pretoria