Malaria is a potentially serious parasitic infection, spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. It occurs throughout tropical and subtropical areas, including parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Oceania. Worldwide, nearly 200 million cases of malaria are thought to occur every year, with around 1,500 in travellers returning to, or entering, the UK. Malaria can be prevented, and although it can be fatal, it can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated quickly.1
All travellers visiting areas affected by malaria are at risk of infection. People born in a country with malaria quickly lose any immunity they may have gained to the disease once they live in a country without malaria, such as the UK.1
Travellers more at risk of severe malaria are children, older people, pregnant women and those without a spleen or with a poorly functioning spleen. If you are pregnant or have poor spleen function, you may be advised to avoid travelling to areas with malaria.1
Symptoms are flu-like and usually include fever, shivering, sweating, fatigue, muscle pains, headache and vomiting. Other symptoms can include coughs and diarrhoea.1,2
Symptoms usually occur 1–4 weeks after the mosquito bite, though in some forms of the disease the parasites can stay in the liver and emerge months, or rarely, years later. If you or your child have symptoms of malaria, seek medical attention urgently as its most serious forms can cause life-threatening complications within 24 hours.1,2
There is no vaccine against malaria. The advice is to follow the ABCD of malaria prevention:1,2
A: Awareness of risk
Make sure you know the risk of malaria in the place(s) you are visiting.
B: Bite prevention
Take steps to avoid mosquito bites, as no malaria tablet is 100% effective. Mosquitoes that carry malaria usually feed after sunset, so use appropriate clothes, insect repellents and mosquito nets during the night.
C: Chemoprophylaxis (taking malaria tablets)
Discuss the malaria tablet that is right for you and the area you are travelling to with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before you go.
D: Diagnosis (and prompt treatment)
Make sure you know the symptoms of malaria, and seek immediate medical attention if symptoms occur, either while abroad or any time up to a year after you return. There are several treatments for the different forms of malaria, and if treated quickly it can be cured without complications. More serious forms of malaria require hospital treatment and monitoring.
If you are visiting remote areas where you will be unlikely to get urgent medical care, carry a course of emergency standby treatment for malaria.1,2 However, this is not meant as a replacement for malaria prevention tablets.
Make sure you contact your GP or travel health practitioner in plenty of time before you travel to discuss the ways you can help to keep yourself healthy whilst away. You should try and contact them at least 4–6 weeks before your trip.
After your trip, you should contact your GP if you develop a fever or notice any other unusual symptoms.
Date of preparation: November 2017