Malaria and Cruising

Anyone cruising in remote tropical areas is, or should be, concerned about malaria. We’ve learned a bit about it during the last two seasons as we cruised Vanuatu, the first area we have visited where we have actually encountered cases of malaria.

What sort of prevention do you recommend?

Anything that prevents mosquito bites!

We found the mosquitoes to be most voracious at dusk and dawn, but remaining on the yacht didn’t prevent them from having their bloody breakfast or dinner. While we were attacked less on board, we still needed to take other precautions.

Prophylactics such as Meflaquine and Larium are supposed to be quite effective, but I would not want to be taking them on a long-term basis (an entire cruising season) because of the negative side effects. First, they can increase one’s sensitivity to the sun, which is not very good when you are exposed to at least some potent sunlight every day. Part of staying cool in the tropics is about wearing a minimum of, or no clothing at all. They can also play havoc with nitrogen retention. If you aren’t a SCUBA diver, or only go to swimming pool depths, then it is no worry. The other side effect is a serious bite on your cruising kitty. These drugs are EXPENSIVE and are usually NOT covered by any health plans. That said, these drugs are malaria treatments as well, and we have some small amounts in our medical kit. We carry a malaria test kit and will take these drugs if we test positive.

There are other things that can be taken internally that have less, or at least more desirable side effects. Quinine has long been used as a repellent to mosquitoes. The most common form is in tonic water. We have discovered that it is much more palatable when mixed with a moderate amount of gin and a squeeze of lime. Large doses of vitamin B may also help some people to repel mosquitoes. I was told by my doctor to avoid eating bananas as the oil emits a scent that ATTRACTS mosquitoes. This is no big deal for me as I hate bananas and believe them to be bad luck if carried on board. Avoid wearing colognes or perfumed cosmetics as they may also attract mosquitoes. I find that the first two above work very well for me and I get almost no bites at all.

Bug screens can be very effective, but they have to be nearly air tight and used religiously day and night. And don’t forget to put them on your dorade vents, solar fans, air intakes or any other hole in your boat that is larger than the size of a small mosquito. I personally find that this restricts the movement of both air and people a bit too much for me. Also, I have a cat that has figured out that port light screens make good scratching posts or late night stealth exits.

Citronella candles and mosquito coils can be very effective deterrents. I don’t like the smoke and ash from the coils, but have found some small, self contained citronella oil candles that are very clean burning and don’t have the wax. They will fit into a drinking glass to prevent the flame from blowing out and have a reasonably pleasant odor. For indoor use, Raid now makes a small blue fan with a repellant filter that works for weeks on 1 D cell battery. I found these little gems, as well as spare filters at the grocery store in Auckland. I put one on my night stand, turn it on when I go to bed, and even with all the hatches open, I don’t get any “mozzies” in my stateroom.

When going ashore, especially in the evening, it’s a good idea to put on some sort of topical repellent. Lots of cruisers find that Avon’s “Skin So Soft” is excellent, but Avon isn’t calling in Vanuatu. Off! has a similar product called “Skintastic,” with aloe vera, of course. I wonder if that isn’t just a meat tenderizer. I find that while they are very effective, they are too greasy for my liking. For average situations, I like a product called “Aerogard.” It comes in a little roll on bottle, which fits nicely in your pocket and eliminates the need to get it all over your hands. It’s non-greasy and has a pleasant scent. If we are expecting a heavy barrage ashore, a product called “Bushman Ultra” from Australia does the trick. This stuff is 80% DEET, which will melt plastics and synthetic clothes, if not your skin, but it is the most effective product I’ve found so far.

If you cover it up, it can’t get bitten. Lightweight clothes with long sleeves or legs are very effective. I have observed that light colored clothes attract more mozzies than dark colors. 
”Wear white at night” doesn’t work here. The same goes with skin color, as we “white meat” get bitten way more than the dark-skinned locals. That suntan can be good for something!

Interestingly enough, while cruising in Vanuatu last season, while we did hear of a few cases of malaria, they were in the more densely populated areas of Port Vila and Luganville (Santo).
The odds of contracting malaria are extremely low, and with a bit of caution, you can reduce the odds to near zero. I certainly wouldn’t alter my cruising plans to a malarial area barring a major epidemic.

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