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Travel Health - Malaria


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What is Malaria?
Malaria is a infectious disease which is transmitted through certain types of mosquito. It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to contract malaria. Malaria is a potentially fatal disease which kills one million people a year worldwide.
Is Malaria a danger to people in the UK?
Malaria mainly exists in areas such as Africa, South America, Asia and South East Asia. However, British travellers are increasingly going to countries where malaria is common and every year approximately 2,000 British travellers return home with malaria. Malaria is preventable but can be fatal if left untreated - an average of 9 UK travellers die each year of malaria.
What can be done to protect against malaria?
If you are travelling to a malarious area, the following advice will help ensure you stay malaria free and that you have a great trip.

Before you travel

Visit your GP, practice nurse, or travel clinic to discuss your antimalarial and vaccination requirements (ideally this should be eight weeks before you travel).

Make sure you have a clear itinerary of your trip as you may only need antimalarials for part of your journey.

Different antimalarials are recommended for different parts of the world, as in some areas the parasite has become resistant to older drugs.

Additionally there are a number of antimalarials and different ones suit different people. Your healthcare professional will advise on the most suitable medication for you and your journey.

During your travels

The first thing to do is to reduce your chances of getting bitten. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice and purchase the recommended antimalarial medication, mosquito netting and insect repellent.

Insect repellents should ideally contain up to 50% DEET and be applied to any exposed skin, always on top of a sunblock. It can also be sprayed onto cotton clothing for added protection. Keep arms, legs and feet covered and limit outdoor activities when mosquitoes are at their most active, such as between dusk and dawn.

Sleeping under a mosquito net impregnated with permethrin should provide you with excellent protection. People often contract malaria because they start to get complacent during their travels. If you have been prescribed antimalarials, it is very important to take them as directed throughout the whole course. Continue bite prevention measures as it only takes one bite to contract malaria.

After your travels

It is essential to complete your course of antimalarials to get full protection. Keep taking them when you get home as you have been prescribed. Initial symptoms of malaria can often be mild, difficult to recognise and can be confused with flu.

If you develop flu like symptoms up to a year after you return home, seek medical advice immediately and tell them that you’ve recently returned from a malaria-risk zone. This will enable a speedy diagnosis and could potentially save your life.

When should you start your anti-malarial medication?

Visit your practice nurse as soon as you decide when you are travelling, ideally 8 weeks before travel. Anti-malarials may need to be commenced up to 3 weeks before you depart – depending on the medication.However, anti-malarials differ – speak to your practice nurse about which one might suit you best.
Malaria Myths
It is important to separate myths from facts when protecting yourself from a deadly disease:
  • MYTH: I hardly ever get bitten and barely react to mosquito bites so I don't need to take precautions.
  • FACT: Everyone's bodies react differently to mosquito bites but this is no indication of whether you have been bitten by a malariacarrying mosquito. It only takes one bite to contract malaria.
  • MYTH: Antimalarials are not 100% effective therefore there is no point taking them.
  • FACT: Antimalarials tend to be between 90 - 100 % effective, and in combination with good bite prevention, can help stop you contracting malaria. Remember, malaria can be deadly.
  • MYTH: All antimalarials have bad side effects that are worse than catching malaria.
  • FACT: Catching malaria could put you in hospital and out of action for weeks, or even kill you. There are different types of antimalarials - talk to your healthcare professional about the best one for you.
  • MYTH: I'm taking homoeopathic medicines to protect against malaria so I don't need to do anything else to protect myself.
  • FACT: There is no evidence that homeopathic or herbal medication will protect you from malaria. Seek advice on antimalarial medication and bite avoidance precautions from a healthcare professional before you travel.
  • MYTH: I'm only going to be in a malarious area for a couple of days so I don't need to bother taking precautions.
  • FACT: It only takes one bite from an infected mosquito to contact malaria. So even if you are in a malarious area for a short period you still need to take advice from a healthcare professional and follow their recommendations.
Dispelling other common myths:

  • Garlic, vitamin B and ultrasound devices will not protect you against malaria.
  • Eating MarmiteĀ® (or other savoury yeast extract spread) will not prevent malaria
  • Drinking gin and tonic will not stop you getting bitten or contracting malaria