J isn’t feeling well. We left Nungwi this morning on the dala dala to Stone Town and then spent the entire day in our room while J slept. He has a fever over 100F/38C. Should we be concerned? Or did he just catch a bug? We’re discussing if there’s a chance it could be malaria.
I read up on malaria while he slept. The antibiotics we’re taking won’t prevent malaria – nothing will. Unfortunately they only help to protect and slow down the progression so we can get medical attention. This was not new information I just naively never really thought we’d need to worry much about it. Silly me. The guidebook suggests getting tested if you have a fever that persists more than two hours regardless of other symptoms present. Yikes!
Since J is in a weakened state, we decide it makes sense for me to search out a clinic amongst the labyrinthine alleys and then we’ll get J there for a malaria test. At the moment J is warm and weary, but with no other major symptoms. I run up to the rooftop of our guesthouse to grab a piece of toast for what could be a long walk. Before I can even talk to the man about a take away snack I begin to feel extremely hot and nauseous. I rush down to the room and sit down on the cool tile floors waiting to get sick. My symptoms are similar to J’s yesterday morning. Holy shit, both of us! We decide to search out the clinic on foot together. Why did we not call a taxi? Austerity? Hmmm that was kind of stupid in hindsight.
Luckily we quickly find what looks to be a reputable facility, the Zanzibar Medical Clinic. The guidebook says it’s up to European standards and often used by the local ex-pats. We wait less than 5 minutes to get tested. We go into the room together and a woman pulls out a blue plastic pin pricker. I watch to make sure it’s new and that the seal breaks before she pricks me. It’s quick and relatively painless. She squishes a dab of blood on a glass slide then performs the same test on J. We anxiously wait in the lobby for results – 5 minutes. We pay 2000 Tanzania shillings each, a little over 1 US dollar per test. How does this all compare to what my experience would’ve been with the US health care system? Hmmmm.
Negative results for both of us. Hallelujah!
This malaria scare now has me concerned. How obtuse of me not to give serious weight to its prevalence here in Africa. I am super woman, I am invincible! Nope… I’d been bitten many times already by mosquitos although we were taking precautions. Those damn mosquitos love me – always have. J tells me when he worked in Ghana for 6 months with VSO (Volunteer Service Organization) most of his friends there ended up with malaria. I fear it’s not a matter of if, rather when I will contract it.
We sleep with mosquito nets over our bed at night; somehow I wake up with bites almost every morning. Are they penetrating the net? Do they have secret entrances into the net I can’t see like vampires sniffing out and honing in on the nearest source of fresh blood? Could there be other creepy crawlies in the bed biting me? Bed bugs maybe? I have killed two mosquitos inside the net tonight. Their lifeless carcasses are now squished into the net, blood smeared on the tule fabric – probably mine. Grrrr.
Before we catch the overnight ferry from Stone Town, Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam on the mainland, we run over to the pharmacy for a few things, one of which being a malaria self-test kit and garlic supplements. I wonder if the kits are even reliable. If we get fevers again at least we can prick ourselves if we’re in the middle of nowhere Tanzania. If it’s negative we’ll give it another 24 hours to monitor symptoms. If it’s positive, then we’ll search out for testing at a medical facility immediately. Supposedly the garlic supplements will change my body chemistry enough that they won’t want to bite me. I took them when I was in India and Indonesia, but ditched them when I left the malarial countries. I’d forgotten to get them before coming to Africa. Stupid, stupid, stupid… I hope they will keep the mosquitoes at bay.
It’s said that over 1 million people die of malaria each year. The majority of deaths occur in those that don’t get prompt adequate treatment… Many are children and pregnant women with low immune systems. It seems outrageous that we’ve all but eradicated it in America, yet it’s an ongoing often times fatal problem for millions here.
We are strong and have the financial ability to get somewhere quickly, so we should be able to survive it if it strikes us. The anti-malarial drugs give us extra time and it is curable if properly treated, but as we move further from the coast and into rural areas it will be more challenging to make it to proper medical facilities quickly. I’m trying to be vigilant and take precautions without freaking myself out.
Still diligently taking the anti malaria medication. Still using sprays. Now sleeping with an insecticide treated net as a blanket over me each night. No telling what horrific chemicals I’m inhaling from the net as I sleep, my head and entire body underneath it. I often still hear the disconcerting buzz of a mosquito whizzing around me in the night. J never gets bitten. I still somehow have new bites each day.
The latest bite looks strange. Like a tiny pin prick where he bit me surely it was a he and then where the red raised circle from the bite had been there’s a bruise following the circumference of the circle. Was this bite different than the others? I’ve never had a bruise from a mosquito bite. Could I tell from a bite mark or the type of mosquito if they were infected? I’m so used to mosquitos from Florida being a nuisance rather than life threatening. It’s hard to think one little mosquito can do so much damage. I’m so lucky to be able to get help if I need it. What about the millions that deal with this threat every day of their lives?