Malaria and Other Big Risks for Overseas Teachers

by Asako Maruoka /
Asako Maruoka's picture
Jun 22, 2012 / 0 comments

For many teachers, a trip to a tropical paradise to do their job is not only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - it's also probably their career highlight. If you're spending time abroad, you learn other cultures, traditions and a number of valuable life skills - maybe even a language or two! However, whether you're in south-east Asia, India or sub-Saharan Africa, you have to ensure that your health is not at risk from a number of diseases that prevail in these regions' climates.


Perhaps the most important thing to protect yourself against prior to your travels is malaria. Special tablets stop you from experiencing the worst effects of what is ultimately a life-threatening disease, so don't think of these offerings as a question of "to take or not to take" - it's something you simply have to do.


Malaria is a tropical disease spread by night-biting mosquitoes, and it takes just one bite to get infected. What's more, you don't notice that you have malaria straight away; symptoms develop around eight days after being bitten, and for some these parasites can stay inactive and only come back to haunt you as long as 12 months after the initial bite. When it does hit you, it can develop very quickly indeed, resulting in severe illness and death.


On top of this, malaria symptoms are similar to those found with flu. If you get malaria, you will experience high temperatures of 38 degrees Celsius or above, alongside cycles of sweats and chills, coughing, diarrhoea, muscle pain and headaches. Fevers fade in and out in 48-hour cycles; you will find yourself shivering at first, then sweating extreme amounts, leading to dehydration.


Teachers in the UK undoubtedly form a small portion of the 1,500 travellers who return to the UK with malaria. Most is caught in Africa, though south-east Asia is also a hotspot. The NHS has begun to popularise the ABCD approach to malaria: Awareness of risk, Bite prevention, Chemoprophylaxis (essentially taking the right antimalarial tablets for you) and Diagnosis, identifying the symptoms if you have them.


Before you depart on your teaching adventure time can be in short supply, but its important to never forget getting the right meds if you don’t have time to see the doctor now you can visit your local pharmacist or go online for advice on malaria  before you travel.  Avoidance is important when you travel; stay in a place with air conditioning, sleep under mosquito nets treated with insecticides, and use insect repellent on your skin. Cover bare skin as much as you can, too.


Of course, there are other illnesses you ought to be aware of; here are several more to watch out for, and get inoculations for. You can see the risks you face in your chosen country by looking at this website.




This is particularly found in South Africa and is transmitted by bites from animals (especially stray dogs). While there is no cure once the disease has passed a certain stage, prophylaxis can be effective if administered quickly after the bite. Vaccination is administered through three injections over a month, and is recommended if you are teaching in an area with limited access to medical care.


Hepatitis A
This can be caught through contaminated food or water. You may already be immune from previous infections, and this is determined by a blood test. A vaccination is best administered four to six weeks before teaching abroad, with a booster six to 12 months after this.


Africa is a notable high-risk area for meningitis, which is passed through close contact, coughing and sneezing. Vaccines should be taken two to three weeks before travelling, and you'll be resilient for around five years.


Like hepatitis A, typhoid is spread through infected food and water. Vaccinations do not give complete protection, but are nonetheless recommended for teachers. Be wary of poor sanitation, particularly if you're a younger teacher - it affects this age group more.