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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Antimalarial medication and mosquito protection

Salutations Dragons,

Every semester we receive many questions about malaria prophylaxis, or “antimalarial” drugs as they’re commonly referred to. At Dragons we don’t recommend a particular course of treatment, we leave that up to you to make the right decision for yourself in tandem with your family and your travel doctor.

A good travel doctor is someone who has specialised in travel medicine (emporiatrics), and is usually not your regular GP. They should ask you questions like:

  • where you are traveling within a country,
  • the length of your trip,
  • what types of activities you might do,
  • other personal matters such as your age, medical and vaccine history, and current medical state.

They will help you to weigh the risk/benefit of taking a certain medication or not, however, the ultimate decision as to whether you take the drug or not is your choice.

Malaria is present throughout South-East Asia but, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of contracting the virus while traveling is low. Please know that malaria is a parasite, not a virus, so there is no vaccine. Antimalarial medications do not give you full protection, so even if you do decide to take antimalarial medication, if you are bitten by a malaria carrying mosquito, you will still contract the disease. However, the symptoms may be less. You can read about antimalarial drug efficacy and drug resistance here.  Each antimalarial drug has side effects. Please read up about them in your own time. Ask your doctor too whether you should test the drug at home in a safe environment before coming on course with us.

Some students choose to take antimalarial drugs throughout the course, others choose not to. Both options are fine, as the most important thing is that we all practice mosquito-safe habits, by:

  • using a mosquito net at night (we will provide these on course, you DO NOT need to pack one),
  • applying mosquito repellent regularly (25-35% DEET or Picaridin base repellents work best),
  • avoiding mosquito infested areas,
  • and wearing long sleeve shirts, pants, socks and enclosed shoes.

Antimalarial medications do not protect you from other diseases carried by mosquitoes such as Dengue fever, Chikungunya and Japanese Encephalitis. In fact, some of these diseases, like Dengue fever, are much more common in the areas we will visit and stay. So, for those who choose to take antimalarial medication, you still have to be vigilant and practice mosquito-safe habits just like the rest of the group. We cannot stress this enough.

If you have any lingering questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Dragons HQ or post a Yak here. However, we are not doctors so we cannot recommend a treatment plan. There are always a multitude of inherent risks involved in travel, and we leave it up to you to determine the best way to mitigate this particular one.

All the best.

Som, Marcus & Jess.

Please note, if you are planning to take antimalarial medication you won’t need to start taking them until the end of our time in China (around 3 weeks or so into the course). We will let you know when to start taking them.

Also, for those interested, the new wave of treated wristband that claim to protect people from mosquito bites do not offer full coverage protection so please do not rely on them. You can read the scientific study here.