Hello, I live in Papua New Guinea. Myself, my wife and my 2 kids (both under 4 years old), get diagnosed with malaria approximately 3-4 times a year, usually vivax or falciparum. Our GP uses a prick of blood and examines under a microscope. Is it that easy/obvious to diagnose under this method and is it common to get this many attacks in a year? I also fear the affects of taking malaria tabs (eg Fansidar, Primaquin, Artemeter, Amodiaquine) this many times, especially for my young kids. Please help!
In high transmission areas, particularly in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa, it certainly isn’t unusual for children to get as many a 5 or 6 malaria attacks in a year; adults tend to present with fewer clinical episodes, usually because they were heavily exposed as children and thus developed a significant level of immunity against malaria.
If you and your wife didn’t grow up in a malarial area, then you would not have that acquired immunity, and so you would be expected to get sick almost as often as your young children. Papua New Guinea certainly is a high transmission zone, and I think one thing which might help your family is to focus more on malaria prevention. Since malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, the best way to avoid getting malaria is to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes. You should all be sleeping under log-lasting insecticide-treated bednets, which kill and/or repel mosquitoes that try to bite you while you sleep (the mosquitoes that transmit malaria, of the genus Anopheles, are most active at dusk, at night, and at dawn—during the heat of the day they usually don’t feed, but may be found in cooler, heavily shaded areas).
You could also try spraying the walls of your house with a long-lasting insecticide like permethrin, which will also kill adult mosquitoes. Making sure your house is well-screened will also prevent mosquitoes from getting in and biting you at night and in the evenings, and if you are going out during these times, you and your family should wear long-sleeved clothing, and exposed skin should be covered with insect repellent. A DEET-based insect repellent is best, but you may not be comfortable using these regularly on young children, since it can have some potentially dangerous long-term effects, particularly on the liver.
In terms of your other questions, looking at your blood under the microscope is the normal way to diagnose malaria in many places, so it sounds like your GP is doing a good job. There is no indication of adverse effects from taking multiple, repeated doses of anti-malarials, but as I mention above, taking additional preventive measures may further help in reducing your family’s malaria incidence.
One thing you might want to talk to your doctor about is the fact that in some cases, Plasmodium vivax can cause relapses of infection weeks or even months after the initial infection. The reason is that P. vivax can form dormant life stages, which can hide out in the liver, and cannot be killed by the normal anti-malarial treatment. However, there is a medication, called primaquine, which can kill these liver forms, and prevent future relapse. People with a deficiency in a particular enzyme, called G6DP, may not be able to take this medication, as it may cause severe anaemia, so prior to taking the drug you might have to be tested for this deficiency. However, it is definitely something you should talk to your GP about.
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