Fri 30 Jun 2006
Filed under: Health / AIDS,News
Refugees from continuing violence in the Myanmar countryside adjacent to Thailand together with an earlier than normal rainy season in the heavily-forested border region means that the incidence and danger of contracting malaria is higher than usual.
Mae Sot Hospital director Dr. Kanoknart Pisuthikul said that early rains meant more risk of dengue fever as well.
Thailand’s public health programme has greatly reduced the annual incidence of malaria cases, the World Health Organization reports, but refugees, migrant workers, villagers living along the border — and tourists — are still at high risk from mosquito-borne diseases unless they take adequate precautions.
While having a steadily reducing incidence, malaria remains a major public health problem in Thailand, with migration of cross-border laborers suspected as a leading cause of malaria transmission. WHO reports that in Thailand, the endemic area is in the hilly or forested area only. Most cases are from the border of Thailand especially Thai-Myanmar, Thai-Cambodia border and that there is no risk in major cities or major tourist resorts such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket and Samui Island.
Drug-resistant strains of malaria have led to establishment of medical research stations such as the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (AFRIMS) research unit at Huaymalai in Sangkhlaburi near the Kanchanaburi-Myanmar border.
However, because of heavy population density, Tak province accounts for 25 percent of malaria cases in Thailand, Dr Kanoknart said. The worst hit districts along the Myanmar border: Mae Sot, Mae Ramat, Tha Song Yang, Phop Phra and Umphang, an area of refugee camps, farms and factories employing workers from across the Moei river.
Some 900 cases of malaria were treated in May at Mae Tao Clinic, near Mae Sot. The clinic treats up to 80,000 Myanmar people a year for malaria, workplace accidents, landmine injuries, malnourishment, birth complications and respiratory infections.
Mahidol University specialists recommend that tourists and business travellers on the Thai-Myanmar and Thai-Cambodia borders should sleep under a bed net and use insect repellents, especially after sunset. Repellents are available at drug stores as “Yah Tah Gahn Yoong” Preventive antimalarial medications are not recommended in Thailand, according to Mahidol University’s Thai Travel Clinic. Malaria in Thailand is multidrug resistant: no drugs can protect travellers against malaria. And drugs may cause unpleasant side effects.
Malaria can be fatal, particularly with delayed treatment. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says of 300-500 million cases reported worldwide annually, only about one million persons die, mainly in Africa.
Travellers getting fever in malaria risk areas should seek medical care at a hospital immediately. Symptoms of malaria include fever with or without chill, headache, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.