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Malaria

Note: Country specific malaria information and malaria maps are available via Destinations.

Introduction

Malaria is a parasite infection that is transmitted by the bite of female mosquitoes. The parasites are microscopic and exist in different forms within the mosquito and human; their life cycle is complex.

Symptoms usually include fever, shivering and sweating; muscle pains, headache and vomiting are common.

  • Symptoms are often described as ‘flu-like’ and can be accompanied by a variety of other symptoms. 
  • Symptoms can be vague, especially in children who may simply be ‘out of sorts’. 

Infection can be severe and rapidly fatal if treatment is not started quickly. Treatment cures infection when initiated properly and promptly.

You cannot be vaccinated against malaria, but you can protect yourself against this disease using the A, B, C, D approach to prevention as follows:

Awareness of risk

Malaria is widespread in many tropical and subtropical countries. Find out if there is a risk of malaria in the country you intend to visit by accessing country specific malaria information and malaria maps via our Destinations section. Note that the risk of malaria can vary between and within countries and depending on the time of year you are travelling.

Bite Prevention

Mosquito bite avoidance is essential; reducing the number of bites you receive reduces the chance of infection developing. Take practical measures to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitoes that transmit malaria typically bite after sunset, however, day biting mosquitoes transmit other diseases, bite avoidance should therefore be practiced at all times.
  • Wearing loose long-sleeved clothing and long trousers can help prevent bites.
  • Mosquitoes may bite through thin clothing, so spray an insecticide or repellent on them. Insect repellents should also be used on exposed skin.
  • Spraying insecticides in the room, burning pyrethroid coils and heating insecticide impregnated tablets all help to control mosquitoes.
  • If sleeping in an unscreened room, or out of doors, a mosquito net impregnated with insecticide is a sensible precaution. Portable, lightweight nets are available.
  • Garlic, Vitamin B and ultrasound devices do not prevent bites.

See  Mosquito Bite Avoidance for more detailed information.

Chemoprophylaxis (taking malaria prevention tablets)

For some countries with a high risk of malaria, tablets to prevent malaria (antimalarials) are recommended.

  • Find out if malaria prevention tablets are advisable for the country you intend to visit via our Destinations section.
  • It is important to practice Bite Avoidance as well as taking antimalarial tablets; no antimalarial tablets are 100% effective, but taking antimalarial tablets as advised reduces the chance of acquiring infection.
  • Antimalarial tablets do not prevent malaria parasites entering the body, but they do help to stop the infection establishing and symptoms developing.

There are a range of different antimalarial tablets available, and these differ in their mode of action, how they are taken and their side effects.

  • It is important to discuss tablet suitability with a qualified doctor, nurse or pharmacist
  • Ensure that you can tolerate the recommended tablets and that they  are appropriate for your destination(s).

  Taking Antimalarial Tablets:

  • Start before arrival to a risk area as guided by your travel health advisor (with some tablets you should start three weeks before). This means there is enough antimalarial medication in your system to start preventing infection when you arrive.
  • Take the tablets regularly and as directed – missing tablets can lead to malaria infection.
  • You must complete the course of tablets after you have left the malaria area.
    • Stopping a course of tablets early, even when not in a malaria area, can lead to malaria infection and symptoms.
  • In the UK, Chloroquine and/or Proguanil can be purchased from local pharmacies.
  • Atovaquone/Proguanil is also available, with some restrictions, in pharmacies.
  • All other drugs require a prescription.

Further information on the commonly used drugs can be found via the following links:

Diagnosis and prompt treatment

Quick diagnosis and prompt treatment saves lives; the most serious forms of disease can become life-threatening within 24 hours.

If you think you might have malaria it is very important to seek medical attention urgently.

  • Remember that the symptoms can be vague.
  • Infection can occasionally develop even if you have taken antimalarial tablets.
  • The most serious form of malaria can occur 6 days after entering a malaria area and up to 30 days (occasionally longer) after leaving a malaria area.
  • If in doubt, seek advice and seek it quickly.

If you get a fever between one week after first potential exposure and up to one year after your return from a country with malaria you should seek medical attention urgently and tell the doctor that you have been in a malaria risk area.

Emergency Standby Treatment for Malaria

If you are travelling to remote areas where you will be unable to access medical care promptly or an area where available medical facilities may be poor, you may be advised to carry a course of standby emergency treatment for malaria.

Standby emergency treatment is not a replacement for taking malaria prevention tablets when travelling to a country with a risk of malaria.

For further information please see our Standby Emergency Treatment for Malaria section.

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