Malaria is one of the world’s most frequently fatal diseases. It is endemic (meaning part of the natural system) in Africa, the southern half of Asia and South America. The entire population of sub-Saharan Africa will contract malaria and suffer to some degree. Those with strong constitutions and good immune systems may suffer from infrequent mild fevers and chills with general malaise whilst those who are weaker may have severe symptoms and, at worse, suffer severe anaemia, immune collapse and renal failure.
The malarial parasite, of which there are many types, has a group name of Plasmodium. Plasmodium falciparum is the most aggressive and has probably developed to become so dangerous because of resistance to antimalarial drugs that have been used over the last 20 years. Plasmodium falciparum can infect the nervous system, giving rise to severe neurological symptoms, including paralysis and coma.
Antimalarial agents have recently been given a bad name because one particular compound, mefloquine, was reported as causing neurological symptoms. Whilst this is true, most people who used this aggressive drug had no problems and were protected against P. falciparum. There is always resistance to having to take a drug but if one weighs the risks of malaria against the risk of a serious side effect, the ratio is negligible. Alternative anti-malarial medicines derived from herbs have been used both in treatment and prevention for thousands of years, derived from plants from all parts of the world where malaria is found. In principle these are fine to take, but they probably act in the same way as the manufactured drugs. The advantage of a pharmaceutical preparation is that doctors know exactly how much of what they are giving. Herbal preparations vary greatly in their constituents and we may be under- or over-dosing.
The drug treatments are very effective pro-phylactically and less so as a treatment but nevertheless have made a profound difference on the prognosis. Ideally the scientific community needs to concentrate their efforts on controlling the Anopheles mosquito that transmits the malaria parasite. Much work is being done in this field but, as always, nature is very tenacious and mosquitoes resistant to insecticides are developing at the same speed as the malaria parasites are becoming immune to antimalaria drugs.
Preventing being bitten is probably the best treatment. The use of drug repellents runs the risk of absorbing these chemicals, which may have a detrimental effect on general health, but at this time, again, the risk of malaria is greater than the hypothetical dangers of insecticide poisoning. Natural repellents are undoubtedly safer but, in my experience, tend not to work so well. Individuals have a greater or lesser predisposition for attracting mosquitoes and, other than levels of vitamin B6 in the bloodstream, there is no evidence to suggest why this is.
Unless a specific intolerance or symptoms develop to antimalaria drugs, these should be used as directed by the World Health Organization (WHO), who advise all pharmacists of the best drugs for the area to be visited.
Mefloquine should be avoided wherever possible because of its neurological side effects.
If you are pregnant or unwell, avoid travelling to malaria-endemic areas. If this is inevitable, discuss the matter with your doctor.
Antimalarial drugs should be started at least one week before travelling and continued for at least three weeks after leaving the malaria-endemic area, because the parasite may lay its eggs in the red blood cells, which may not hatch for at least two to three weeks. The drugs are ineffective unless the parasite is swimming freely in the bloodstream outside of the red blood cells.
The best treatment is prevention. Use mosquito repellent sparingly but effectively.
The use of vitamin B6 at a level of lOmg per foot of height taken with breakfast and before dusk can have a profound antimosquito effect.
If prevention fails and the fevers, shakes, sweating, fatigue and headache of malaria are suspected, then a blood test for diagnosis is usually available and needs to be taken at the peak of the fever if possible. Orthodox drug treatment with quinine derivatives is usually initiated immediately and should be taken alongside alternative treatments.
Only if you react badly to the drugs should you consider the use of Peruvian bark (Cinchona succirubra): either one teaspoonful of the bark per cup of boiling water that has simmered for 30min, drunk three times a day; or l-2ml of the tincture three times a day.
Burberry (Berberis vulgaris): put one teaspoonful of bark in a cup of cold water, bring to the boil, leave for 15min and drink three times a day; or take 2-4ml of the tincture three times a day.
The above concoctions may be used as a treatment if orthodox drugs are failing, or at the same time.
Some unsubstantiated homeopathic sources suggest that the homeopathic remedy Natrum muriaticum can be taken, potency 6, three times a day and has a protective effect against malaria. An individual is taking a risk if relying on this alone.
If malaria is contracted, review the homeopathic preparations of Cinchona, known as China, or two of its derivatives. Cinchona Arsenicum or Cinchona sulph. These should be taken as potency 6 every 2hr through the fever and every 4hr between bouts.