Volunteer worker treated for malaria in Ghana

Chronicle Staff

The night Lauren Rose ’07 started to feel sick, she was nestled in a neat European style hotel, a place that felt very far from Cape Coast, the rambling Ghanaian town it was located within.  Rose had been in Ghana for a month traveling with a group of 14 Americans on a trip sponsored by the Experiment in International Living.

She lived for two weeks with a Ghanaian family, participated in Twi language classes, studied Ghanaian dance and history and worked on 10 day community service project.
She spent her last Friday in Ghana relaxing with her group mates, watching movies in their hotel room.  At 3 a.m., she woke up nauseated and dizzy.  She was careful not to wake the girl from her group sharing her bed as she made her way to bathroom. The first time she got sick that night, she didn’t worry much.  She crawled back between her white sheets and regretted eating such a large dinner at a cheap local restaurant earlier that vening.

Rose didn’t sleep the rest of the night.  By daybreak, she’d vomited a half dozen more times and had started to fear she might have something worse than food poisoning.

At around 7 a.m., Rose’s roommate woke up and decided her friend needed more help.
The girls knocked on the leader’s door and were told that Alyssa Mezochow, another group member, had left for the hospital just 20 minutes ago with similar symptoms. 
Rose remembers panicking while riding in a taxi cab to the hospital.

She couldn’t stop vomiting, and with no food left in her system, she was heaving up water.  A high fever set in, and her bones and muscles began to ache like nothing she’d ever felt before.

Earlier in the trip, another group member, Jonathan Tien from New York, had had a negative experience while being treated for typhoid in a large public hospital, so Rose felt scared instead of relieved as she got nearer to medical attention.  Because of Tien’s experience, the group leader chose to take Rose to a different hospital, affiliated with a local university.

“It was really more of a clinic,” Rose said, describing the place as quite small and the clientele as mainly elderly locals.

“I know it sounds stupid,” she said, “but I was so scared about the needles, I mean, you think Africa, you think AIDS.”

“Luckily my friend Alyssa’s mom is a nurse at Penn,” Rose said, so her friend was able to check and make sure the doctors were doing everything they should, “things like making they tapped the needles before using them, and that they were wrapped in plastic.”
Or, as Rose described it, “everything I was too delirious to know.”

Rose was told she had malaria, despite the fact that she’d been taking Mefloquine, an anti-malaria pill, once a week since the week before she arrived in Ghana.

During the three hours she was treated in the hospital, Rose went from being terrified at the thought of having malaria to being relatively comforted by the knowledge that a brush with the disease is almost a fact of life in West Africa, it’s so prevalent.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, visitors to all of Ghana are at risk for the disease, and it’s transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito.

All of the African leaders of Rose’s program had experienced malaria at one point or another, and because of its pervasiveness, Rose noted that Ghanaian doctors tend to treat all malaria-like symptoms as if they are indeed indicative of malaria.

Although Rose’s high fever, muscle aches and fatigue could all be indicative of malaria, it wasn’t until she returned home to the U.S. a few days later that she discovered it wasn’t.
After blood tests, her doctor determined her symptoms were caused by either a parasite or salmonella.