There are many difficult questions to answer before embarking on international travels with your children. None the least, should I take them to a Malaria area and what is the risk of Malaria in kids? And if I do, what precautions should I take?
Young children are considered at high risk of Malaria. For more information about Malaria and kids health click here.
Important note: We are not medical professionals, just people who have traveled. You should also seek professional medical advice on the risk of Malaria in kids.
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On this mumma’s first big backpacking tour of Asia (some 20 years ago!) she took anti-malarial tablets. Mumma ended up with patchy skin and vivid, scary dreams. That was enough for her to decide next time to go for a less chemical, but potentially healthier, option of natural protection. By more healthy we mean that with patchy skin, and scary dreams, the drug couldn’t have been good for the body! Mumma decided she would take the risk of getting malaria.
This what she did to protect herself against mosquito bites.
- Using long sleeve shirts, long pants and socks (if you are wearing sandals) even when it is very humid and hot. This can be uncomfortable.
- Using insect repellents generously and frequently.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens.
- Skipping night-time activities where there are known to be mosquitoes.
- Researching the risk of Malaria in a specific area before planning to travel there. (eg Standard travel advice can refer to a whole country as a risk, when that is not necessarily appropriate. You should investigate recent cases in specific regions to make the most informed decisions)
The difficulty with trying to apply these measures in children is that it can be hard to get them to wear any clothes some days (let alone hot days)! Even non-fussy kids can be resistant about different kinds of repellents, which can sting or smell bad.
In short: If you have small kids that are like this, maybe traveling to an area with malaria risk is not a good idea and best postponed until they are older and you can evaluate whether you wish to take an anti-malarial drug.
Edit: After publishing this post a number of parents reached out to tell us they had taken anti-malarials (including Malarone) while traveling with their children aged 9 and up. Those who contacted us said they had no side effects. This purpose of this post was to talk about our experiences and decisions with smaller children
We Have Been Asked Specifically About The Risk Of Malaria In Kids While Traveling In These Places:
Peru: There is no Malaria risk for people visiting the capital Lima, coastal areas south of Lima, or the popular highland tourist areas like Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca. Malaria is present in the Peruvian Amazon, with epidemics occurring occasionally in the Loreto province (which includes Iquitos).
If you are going to visit the Peruvian Amazon with kids you need to decide whether you will visit the Iquitos region or the Puerto Maldonado region.
As the map in this link shows, there is a lower risk of Malaria in the Madre de Dios region (centered on Puerto Maldonado.)
Malaria, and other mosquito borne illness risks, changes from season to season. This information should not replace doing your own research at the time you are traveling. Make sure you have the latest, most up to date information available. This is vitally important!
Malaria Risk at Puerto Maldonado (based on personal experience):
Malaria risk needs to be assessed in terms of how long you will be in the area. Meaning, determine if you will be there for a short time in a tourist jungle lodge or venturing further into the jungle (doing volunteer or research work).
Tourist lodges tend to be very cautious about leaving water lying around. Some may even do fumigation to keep mosquitoes away. You could ask prior to booking if they have a policy or how they deal with it.
The World of Travels family is considering traveling to Puerto Maldonado in 2018 with an 8-year-old and 4-year-old. We haven’t visited with smaller children previously. We considered it impractical and dangerous with boat trips and lots of access to water, not because it was a low risk malaria area. Should we go, we won’t be taking anti malarial drugs.
Mosquitoes And Other Illnesses
Responsible practices against getting mosquito bites (listed above) are practical for many other reasons as well, not just to minimize the risk of Malaria in kids. While Malaria is a serious illness associated with mosquitoes, there are plenty of others that can make you very sick.
For example: Chikungunya Virus can be unpleasant and is present in Papa’s home country of Nicaragua.
Zika Virus has gained a lot of press in recent years for its connection with encephalitis in babies. Zika virus is present in Nicaragua, Peru, and Costa Rica. I am not sure what “level” these countries are for Zika at the moment (you would need to find out). See the CDC’s website for more information about Zika and specific destinations.
As an anecdote, Fiji has had outbreaks of Zika from time to time and I was surprised that it was an enormously popular destination for pregnant women. We saw plenty of them there at the resorts!!
That is, people obviously assess the risk as low, even though it is present in the country.
Vaccinations – a Footnote:
You might wonder what our stance is on vaccinations? Our children are fully vaccinated according to the Australian schedule and have received vaccinations for Typhoid and Hepatitis A from the appropriate age. They have not been vaccinated for Rabies. We will vaccinate them against Yellow Fever should we go to the Peruvian jungle.
The children’s cousins are, by contrast, not vaccinated at all. Their parents have taken a non-vax path for many reasons, and we are familiar with these reasons and respect their choices. However, for our travel lifestyle and the destinations we go, we feel that vaccination is a safe choice for our children.
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