Malaria Pills: Which One To Take (If Any)?


The October holiday is approaching, and many people are flying south to enjoy a tropical vacation. It’s important for travelers to be medically prepared so as not to have their trip ruined by diarrhea, fevers, or other illnesses. The mosquito-born illness of malaria is also a concern. Many people take a preventive antibiotic to prevent malaria; this clearly cuts down on the risk and severity of malaria. But, many antibiotics do not work in some countries due to antibiotic resistance.  So, how do you find out what you need to know, without spending a lot of money on a doctor’s visit?

The first thing everyone should do is to check a travel website to see which medicines work in your travel area. My favorite website is the CDC Travel website. They have an easy pull-down menu which will provide extensive country-specific information on all disease risks, including malaria. Every expat should be using this type of website before their travels! It’s a fantastic, free resource. Check it out! There’s also another, more direct CDC web page that lists country-specific malaria risk.

So, you go to these websites, find out if you need malaria prevention medicine, decide whether or not you want to take the pills, and take this information to your doctor to receive the prescription.

Again, the best medicine depends on current CDC recommendations, which often change. But in general, the cheapest malaria medicine usually is doxycycline; it should be 8RMB or less per pill, and it’s a once-a-day pill you take with food, starting two days before your trip, and continuing once a day until 28 days after your return. There are a couple other pills which are also useful; some pills are weekly but more expensive; and side effects differ as well. All expat clinics should have these medicines, but find out early what Rx you need, as clinics often run out of malaria medicines just before the usual expat rush before vacations. Sometimes it’s good to call the clinic pharmacies before you go in, to make sure they have stock.

The more important thing, of course, is not to get bitten in the first place! If you’re in a high-risk area, use at least 20% DEET spray; consider mosquito nets; and avoid as much night-time outdoor activity as possible. Do not use only citronella spray, or that green  Chinese spray; these are not considered effective, and they also only last for a couple hours.

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