Thinking of going to Jamaica to escape winter? Watch out for malaria!

Winter is dilly-dallying, the slopes are bare and the dreariness of it all is sheer torture…why not spend a week down south? But before you head to see your travel agent, some precautions must be taken when choosing your destination, and that unfortunately includes Jamaica. In fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recently posted an advisory after cases of malaria were reported in some regions of this lovely paradise. Wait! Don’t cancel your trip just yet!

Winter is dilly-dallying, the slopes are bare and the dreariness of it all is sheer torture…why not spend a week down south? But before you head to see your travel agent, some precautions must be taken when choosing your destination, and that unfortunately includes Jamaica. In fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recently posted an advisory after cases of malaria were reported in some regions of this lovely paradise. Wait! Don’t cancel your trip just yet!

For now, the Agency has confirmed eleven cases of malaria in the Jamaican capital of Kingston and two cases at Sydenham in the neighbouring province of St.Catherine’s. One American returned home with the disease. Seaside resorts like Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril, most often visited by tourists, are located in the northern part of the island, where no cases have been reported to date.

This is the first local malaria epidemic in Jamaica in the last forty years. The Jamaican Ministry of Health has undertaken measures to control and contain the epidemic with a pesticide spraying campaign and the elimination of pools of stagnant water that are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. So there is no need to panic.

However, should you wish to visit Kingston, if only to see the museum dedicated to the legendary Bob Marley, it would be wise to take some precautions to protect yourself against mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are especially active between dusk and dawn. It is recommended to wear light-coloured long-sleeved clothing, socks and shoes when doing outdoor activities in the endemic regions and to spray them with a permethrin solution, a mosquito repelling agent. It is preferable to keep the windows closed and to sleep with the air conditioning on or under a bed net impregnated with permethrin to reduce the risks. It is also recommended to use an insect repellent that contains DEET on all exposed parts of skin.

There is no vaccine to prevent malaria. However, there are medications that prevent the infection. They are not 100% effective against the disease: they do not prevent mosquitoes from biting but rather reduce the proliferation of parasites in the blood. To be effective, these medications must be taken before, during and after your trip.

Before going on a trip, you should meet with your physician or go to a travel health clinic or a travellers’ clinic to ensure optimal protection throughout your trip. Malaria is not the only disease that can affect travellers who visit underprivileged regions of the globe. Among the nasty little vacation souvenirs travellers often bring back from a trip, hepatitis A and B, travellers’ diarrhea and sexually transmitted infections figure at the top of the list much more often than malaria does.

On behalf of those who are staying home this winter, bon voyage and come home healthy!

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