When they stop off on your arm to get a bite, mosquitoes provide the ideal entry way for a host of diseases. The most widespread of these threats remains malaria. Though only rarely fatal, this disease, in even a mild form, can delay a trip in nightmarish fashion - shaking, cold sweats, and diarrhea straight out of Dr. Livingston's worst nightmares.
The good news: With a just a few simple precautions you can easily protect yourself, enabling you to travel where you want without fear.
The mosquito's comrade-in-arms
Malaria is Public Enemy Number One when it comes to diseases spread by the mosquito. Most strains will not cause death, but can still prove difficult to cure. Early symptoms typically resemble the flu - fever, chills, sweating, headaches, muscle aches, and diarrhea, for example.
Onset of symptoms after the infectious bite typically occurs within seven days, though it can take as long as 21. Once acquired, malaria hangs on like a pit bull. Some travelers suffer malarial relapses periodically for the rest of their lives.
Of the four strains of malaria that thrive in humans, the only fatal version is Plasmodium falciparum, which causes cerebral malaria. At its worst, this disease explodes so many blood cells at once that the victim's bloodstream becomes literally choked with dead material.
When to worry
Malaria parasites tend to hang out in warm, humid, lowland regions. Speaking really broadly, you should worry most about South and Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Melanesia. However, you absolutely must check for specific local information when planning your itinerary. A good travel agent, travel clinic, up-to-date guidebook, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can help you get started.
Also, put faith only in recently updated information because malaria is on the move. Global warming trends have steadily expanded the "malaria belt" and the parasite has developed a troubling resistance to common drugs in some areas.
The best precaution is this: Don't get bit. If the insects can't get at you or don't want to, they can't transmit the parasites.
If you plan to travel way off the beaten track, you can obtain a course of drugs to treat yourself for the disease. However, even if you treat yourself, cut your trip short and head to a doctor immediately. A travel clinician can advise you on what kind of malaria treatment kit you should consider.