That Time I Had Malaria In Mozambique

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


And I thought that I was just a little hungover, maybe even a little dehydrated. Unfortunately, anytime you’re traveling in a region where malaria has not yet been eradicated (as I was when I was traveling in Mozambique last month), even the smallest symptoms should be taken seriously. Per the CDC, such symptoms include “fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur.”

Or, as your ubiquitous Lonely Planet says, “The early stages of malaria include headaches, fevers, generalized aches and pains, and malaise, which could be mistaken for flu.” The point is, don’t screw around, trying to convince yourself you don’t have it and that surfing lessons in Tofo Bay should definitely not be interrupted just because you feel a little under the weather. Ahem . . .

For me I experienced an unusually pronounced desire to lay in my bed at 8 a.m. and not move, hoping that my half-eaten breakfast would stay down. Neither of which occurred. A few hours later I was on my way to see a doctor who, in most malarial regions, knows and recognizes the illness and can detect it on the spot within seconds after a very quick finger prick using a sample pad.

After miming my symptoms to the Portuguese-speaking doctor (a malarial Marcel Marceau if you will), I was quickly diagnosed and put on a regiment of Coartem, a pill taken twice a day for three days that has a 95% cure rate. (Thankfully this medicine is widely distributed for free by the drugmaker, Novartis.)

Luckily, after only a day I was feeling much better, and by the time I was heading home a few days later I was back to normal. The point is, even if you do everything right (take your anti-malaria pills every day, use a mosquito net, apply bug spray, drink copious amounts of local beer in an attempt to make your blood less tasty to mosquitoes), you still have to be careful and you must, no matter how much it interferes with your aquatic plans of the day, get yourself checked out by a doctor if you’re feeling any of these symptoms. Even if the results show you’re fine, the worst that happens is that you have a story to tell back home about that time you thought you had malaria in Mozambique.

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