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There Is No Malaria In Bangkok

  • Written by Just Me
  • December 14th, 2005
  • 4 min read

The Official Thai Government Position is Apparently – – “There is no Malaria in Bangkok”. Well, like many things Thai, real problems are given political solutions. To make a real problem go away, the Thai government simply declares that the problem does not exist.

I did not know that “Malaria in Bangkok” fell into that category, I found out the hard way.

I had been sick off and on for a few days. I had all of the classic Malaria symptoms, but I did not realize what they were. I had fatigue, headache, nausea, abdominal cramps, joint pain, and backache. I suspected something viral, I did not even consider a tropical parasite. I immediately feared the worst.

I rode it out, and I just refused, at first, to seek medical help. I spent the better part of two weeks doctoring myself, using stomach medicines for the nausea and using Paracetamol and fluids for the aches, pains, and fever symptoms, and I just wasn’t getting any better. So, I was beginning to fear that I had scored the “big one” from some naughty street girl, so I finally went to the social disease clinic (you know the one) on Sukhumvit Soi 11, where I demanded every lab test known to man.

When I asked the clinician to give me the entire tropical disease battery of tests, (in addition to all the other tests) he asked me if I had been in Bangkok, continuously, without leaving, for at least the last 30 days? Well, I am here on a work visa, and I generally leave Bangkok only every 90 days, so yes, the truth was that I had been here about 45 days at that point, never leaving the farang ghetto area, actually. He proceeded to tell me that “there is no malaria in Bangkok”, so the only thing that he would agree to select from the tropical disease battery of tests was dengue fever.

I went back to the Soi 11 clinic a few days later. All the tests came back negative. So I figured that I must have contracted some unknown mystery disease with undulating fever and no diagnosis and no cure. Just absolutely wonderful.

Well, when all else fails, blame the doctor, so a few days later I went to Bumrungrad. I am sure that Bumrungrad is a fine hospital, but I felt like I was being subjected to the exact same routine as at the Soi 11 clinic. The Bumrungrad doctor would not order the lab test for malaria since I had not left Bangkok. I insisted, but he explained to me “oh no, can not test you for malaria, you have not been out of Bangkok, and there is no malaria in Bangkok”. A few days passed, and I of course got back the same results. All tests were negative for any known disease.

During the course of the next week, when not flat on my back with the fever, I got on the Internet and read everything that I could find and I learned more than I wanted to know about bacteria, viruses, parasites, and “false negative” lab tests.

I also read all of the “scare” stories about the bird flu, the H5N1 virus, and how (allegedly) China and the Southeast Asian nations are struggling to contain the bug as well as struggling to contain the bad press. Containing bad news seems to be just as important as containing bad viruses, maybe more so.

I also read all that I could find about local Bangkok medical care, and I decided, based on what I read, that I would give BNH a try. They are not as large as Bumrungrad, but they are rated as being a somewhat “high end” hospital, perhaps with more to offer in some ways.

So, another week, and other hospital, and I went to BNH. Hey, nice nurses. But, anyway, I had a plan. I would lie. When asked, “had I been out of Bangkok”, I said “oh, yes”, and I told the doctor that I had been “touring all over the Kingdom”, and I named every backwater outpost that came to mind, north to south, and sideways across the Kingdom.

That did the trick. In addition to my blood and urine being tested for everything else known to Thai medicine, the box for Malaria was dutifully ticked on their lab work form.

The test came back positive for malaria. I had antibodies in my blood for the malaria parasite. The BNH doctor prescribed mefloquine and doxycycline for me. It is several weeks later now, and I am finally getting better.

So, there is no malaria in Bangkok, eh?

Stickman's thoughts:

Excellent story. I used to live right, slap bang in the centre of Bangkok and I very clearly remember THREE people who lived in the soi contracting malaria. They were not friends and had not been away together to areas where malaria is expected.