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Weekly Wrap Up #9 – My Little Malaria

April 30, 2010

No “General Observations and Witty Remarks” this week. Instead, I bring you a delightful little story I like to call “My Little Malaria”….

Once upon a time four days ago, in a land far, far away called Kenya, there lived a mzungu intern named Erin. Our story starts on a Sunday night in April, a Sunday night in which our little mzungu forgot to take her malaria medication, mefloquine. Unfazed, Erin woke up on Monday morning, realized her error, and hastily consumed the 250 mg dose in order to ward off any evil schistisomes that might be lurking. “Not to worry” she thought, “mefloquine works for a week and I only missed my dose by less than 12 hours. Plus, I can’t remember the last time I got bitten by a mosquito.” As the day progressed, Erin started to feel a bit funny – nothing too terrible, just a gurgly stomach and some cramping intestines. The walk home from work was unpleasant and she arrived in a bit of a cold sweat, but besides a headache and dysentery-like problems, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong. Tuesday started off with a lovely night of sleeping in… as he stomach still didn’t feel well, she decided to take the day off. Tuesday was a bit rough, illness wise, because now she had a bit of a low grade fever to accompany the stomach issues, but thankfully the host family was off of school so the company was great. Armed with her $3 thermometer from Wal-Mart, prescription anti-diarrheal drugs and over-the-counter pain pills, Erin was ready to take on any Kenyan germs that dared cross her immune system. After a good sleep on Wednesday, Erin felt some better, but was irked to still have a cramping stomach and low appetite, even though the fever had gone down a lot and the headache was better. Despite the medicines and antibiotics specifically supposed to cure these things, Erin still wasn’t feeling top-notch on Friday, so she told one of her leaders that she’d go into the doctor. Convinced that she probably had something intestinal – bacterial or amoebic, Erin waited patiently to see the doctor, who just so happens to be right across from her office. After a quick chat about symptoms and their timeline, Mr. Doctor did a very thorough check-up… by feeling her forehead and telling her that she had a fever. She was then referred to the lab, where they pricked her finger and drew blood for a malaria test that costs 50 shillings (about 75 cents). Less than 20 minutes later the news was in.. “You have malaria!” Congrats, little mzungu, you thought you could escape us, but nope! We out witted you!

So, at the end of a very long week of feeling not-so-great, I’ve discovered that I have malaria. The stories that I had heard of malaria were violent, fever and chills, body-on-the-floor, can’t move feel awful – this, was not my case. Given the timeline of my illness and the way in which it occurred, I’ve determined that those dear little anopheles mosquitoes must have given me the less common form of malaria parasites, known scientifically as Plasmodium vivax. This type accounts for around 30% of the cases in Kenya, and is less sever but can be longer lasting than it’s cousin, the more prevalent and initially more violent P. falciparum. Because the P. vivax parasites stay in the liver and release over a much longer period of time, a person like me with this type of malaria can have it in their system for up to 4 weeks before experiencing the symptoms. Evidently, those 12 hours without my mefloquine drug allowed the parasites which were already in my body to begin manifesting themselves and reeking havoc on my blood cells. And then, once I had taken the medicine, it was flushed out of my system before being fully absorbed because of the diarrhea complication from the malaria. All this to say, despite my precautions (bednets, bug spray, antimalarial meds) I still managed to get it and I’m thoroughly impressed that it tricked me into thinking it was something else so well.

Anopheles mosquitoes & P. Vivax win Round 1. Nuts.

In case you’re interested, you can see what P. vivax malaria looks like (microscopic blow-up of blood smears) here:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anne permalink
    April 30, 2010 5:34 pm

    So glad that 1) You’re alive! 2) That you didn’t have the violent form of malaria 3) That you called me with a pre-warning (thank you!!! I didn’t want to have to find Zach and storm Africa!) 3) That you went to the doctor’s office 4) That they had meds for you, and 5) MOST GLAD THAT YOU’LL BE COMING HOME IN 17 DAYS!!!! 🙂 YEA, Erin for the masses! Hope you feel all better soon. We love you and are praying for you.

  2. Laura permalink
    April 30, 2010 7:46 pm

    Omg, I’m glad to know you’re going to be ok. Keep up a stiff upper lip!

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