Anyone who is part of online travel forums know that the topic of vaccines and malaria pills come up in about 1 out of every 2 posts. Instead of talking to their doctors, folks turn to the internets for expert medical advice. To take or not to take malaria pills is always the question and ‘which pill’ is always the follow-up.
Before heading out to SEA, I asked the same questions during my Travel Clinic appointment and my travel nurse assured me that I did indeed want to take them for at least the part of my trip where I would be in Laos and Cambodia and that I definitely wanted to take Malarone. Having heard that malaria pills often made people feel sick, I asked about the side effects and was assured that as long as I did not take them on an empty stomach, I should be fine. What she neglected to tell me was that taking Malarone would bring me as close to going down the rabbit hole to Wonderland as humanly possible.
So, the first time I popped a pill, I did so on a empty stomach accidentally. I’d simply forgotten that I had not eaten. The travel nurse was right. Bad move. For most of the day, I felt like I was licking a mercury lollipop. My stomach was just angry and I just felt overall sluggish and gross. For the next two weeks, I made sure I never did that again.
I never had those side effects resurface except the mercury mouth, but something strange was definitely happening. My dreams came to life at night. Swirling vortexes of colors, murderous clowns, a black and white tv fixed on the same channel that appeared in nearly every single dream. And, things weren’t weird just when I was sleeping either. I remember sitting on a bench in Luang Prabang and I was pretty sure my smoothie was talking to me. I’ve never done any kind of drugs and I was starting to wonder if I’d maybe accidentally bought one of the famous Laotian ‘happy pizzas’ You know, because that happens.
I remember sitting on a bench in Luang Prabang and I was pretty sure my smoothie was talking to me.
I did not immediately suspect the Malarone as the culprit. I googled my symptoms: hallucinating, weird taste in mouth, crazy dreams. You can probably imagine what WebMD had to say. I eventually stumbled across a few message board posts about people having similar experience with…you guessed it, Malarone. I stopped taking it shortly after and things got back to normal in a couple of days but not before a couple of more wild nights of running from killer clowns.
I chatted later with a doctor friend of mine who spends a lot of time in Rwanda, a high-risk malarial area. We talked about the largely unknown long-term effects of malaria treatments and the surge of drug-resistant malaria. Apparently, Malarone is one of the only remaining effective treatments for malaria and if you have taken malarone as a prophylaxis, you cannot be treated with it if you do in fact get malaria. My friend takes doxycycline, an antibiotic taken daily, and seems to avoid unpleasant side effects and malaria.
As I am heading back into a malaria zone in a few months, I am definitely looking at some alternatives and will have some discussions with my travel nurse on how to avoid both malaria and you know, totally tripping out.
*I’m not a doctor. **This is totally not medical advice
What has been your experience with Malarone or other Malaria medication?