South Africa Safari & Malaria
First the good news: malaria in South Africa is restricted to a very small area of the country and is seasonally driven. In fact, you can enjoy a South Africa safari and avoid malaria entirely: there are many malaria-free reserves across the country which offer excellent Big 5 game viewing and they are easily combined with Cape Town to deliver a well-rounded and completely malaria-free safari.
Read more about South Africa’s best malaria-free reserves here.
So far so good: the downside is that South Africa’s biggest and best game reserves do lie within the malaria belt. If you plan to visit the Kruger National Park, its private reserves such as Sabi Sands or the safari destinations of northern KwaZulu Natal, then malaria is something that needs to be considered.
WHAT IS MALARIA?
Malaria is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite called a Plasmodium, introduced into the human body by the bite of a certain type of mosquito – Anopheles gambiae. An infected human starts to show signs of malaria within a week or so of being bitten – fever, body aches and chills – similar to the symptoms of the ‘flu’. Although there is no vaccine against malaria and it can be life-threatening, it is a preventable and curable disease.
HOW SERIOUS IS THE MALARIA RISK ON A SOUTH AFRIA SAFARI?
Minimal and only in the Kruger Park region and northern KwaZulu Natal. Local malaria cases begin rising around October as the rainy season begins; the number of cases peaks in January/February and tails off by the end of May.
However, not only is malaria is on the decline in South Africa but the incidence rate – the number of new malaria cases in a time span – is far lower than in other parts of Africa. And the disease is mostly prevalent in semi-urban areas with relatively dense populations and poor infrastructure (not the conditions you’ll find in the game reserves) and so the risk of malaria transmission in these areas is even lower when on safari.
HOW DO I MANAGE THE MALARIA RISK EFFECTIVELY IN KRUGER/KZN?
By carefully choosing the time of year you go, and by adopting simple malaria-prevention measures.
The best time for a safari with the very lowest risk of malaria is between June and October: you’ll enjoy clear skies and sunny weather, virtually no rain and – in June, July and August – the mildest temperatures of the year. This is when malarial mosquitos are mostly in the dormant stage of their life cycle as well as the period generally regarded as the best time for game viewing.
Once on safari, adopt a ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach: make use of the mosquito net that covers your bed – there is usually an electric fan too, and some suites are air-conditioned. Mosquito-repellent is supplied in your room – apply it to exposed skin before your morning and afternoon game drive (mosquitos are active at dawn as well as dusk) or simply wear long-sleeved tops and trousers plus socks and shoes to cover up during these times.
SOUTH AFRICA SAFARI & MALARIA – THE BOTTOM LINE
Although the risk of contracting malaria is extremely low, if you are planning to go on safari to the Kruger Park or northern KwaZulu Natal then it is highly recommended that you consult a medical practitioner before departure. Many visitors to these risk areas do take some form of malaria prophylaxis, especially if travelling in the November – April summer months, and the type of medication varies, especially for children.
The bottom line however is that unless you are travelling with very young children, malaria should not be a discouraging factor is choosing these areas for a safari: they offer arguably the best wildlife experience in South Africa and have been delivering successful safaris for generations of visitors.