Guide to Avoiding Malaria on Your Travels

Profile picture of
gy_cormac2

View Profile All Posts
Written by: Dr Rob Pineda

How to Stay Safe from Malaria

Malaria is nasty. You don’t want to get it, we don’t want you to get it, so we asked Rob to explain it to us in words of one syllable. Please bear in mind though, that this is just a little light reading so that you go to your travel health assessment properly clued up.

Malaria is a serious, potentially life threatening parasitic infection transmitted by the mosquito. It’s caused by four species of parasite and is one of the most significant diseases in the world. Over 300 million cases and between 700,000 and 2.4 million deaths are reported each year in affected areas. Although the brunt of this is borne by the folk that live in the malarial areas, travellers are also at serious risk if steps to prevent infection are not taken. Around 2,000 people each year enter the UK with malaria; around nine of whom will die. Many of these deaths could be prevented through following proper medical advice.

The parasite

Female malaria-infected mosquitoes transmit malaria. In the mosquito, malaria parasites grow and develop in their guts. Infection in humans occurs when an infected mosquito bites you and takes a blood meal. While feeding on your blood, the malarial parasites pass into the blood stream, from here they infect the liver cells; multiply before bursting out of liver cells and infecting the blood cells. In the blood cells they multiply again, which causes the blood cell to burst. This releases yet more parasites which go on to infect more blood cells. This causes the fevers, which are the main symptom of malaria. These occur every 48 hours or 72 hours in one type of malaria; the time it takes for the parasites to multiply and burst blood cells.

If this sounds like your idea of fun, you’re welcome to stop reading…

Symptoms

Common symptoms of uncomplicated malaria include:

  • High fevers
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Severe flu-like illness

The phrase ‘flu-like symptoms’ can lead you to believe that malaria is less serious than is actually the case, but people with malaria are often very sick and require hospitalisation.

In complicated malaria, patients can suffer from low blood pressure, jaundice, kidney failure, coma and death. Fatalities mainly occur in one strain of the parasite known as Falciparum malaria. The distribution of this varies.

Travellers are at a higher risk of serious illness or death than the local adults in affected regions because they have no immunity to malaria whatsoever. Locals build up a degree of immunity to the parasite, making them less likely to suffer serious disease if they survive beyond childhood. Most deaths in endemic regions are in children who, like adult travellers, have no immunity. This is why it is so important for travellers to protect themselves from malarial infection.

If malaria is contracted it is treatable, in most cases in a straightforward manner, but however small there is a real risk of complications and death with any case. There is also the risk of relapse years after infection. With some species of the parasite this is true even after effective treatment.

Prevention is always better than cure.

Mosquitoes carry malaria

Areas affected

Malaria occurs mostly in warmer climates and is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, but varies between countries. On a local level, areas of high transmission occur anywhere that mosquitoes thrive, usually near areas of still or stagnant water.

  • Risk in individual countries varies between rural and metropolitan locations. This makes seeking advice relating to exact itinerary highly important.
  • Changes in travel plans within a country might require further medical advice. Your local travel clinic or GP will have the latest advice on countries affected or use MASTA who have up-to-date advice.

Prevention

One of the best ways to reduce the chance of malaria infection is to reduce the chance of mosquitoes biting you.

  • Insect repellent (containing DEET) on areas not covered by clothes
  • Use and properly maintain, a DEET or permethrin treated mosquito net
  • Cover up with long sleeved clothes

Mosquito bites are most likely at around dusk and dawn, so special care should be taken to avoid bites at these times by taking the above measures or avoiding being outside at these times.

Antimalarial drugs

  • There is no vaccine currently available for malaria. The main method for preventing it in travellers is by taking antimalarial drugs; these prevent the infection from establishing itself, if an infected mosquito bites you. This is known as ‘chemoprophylaxis’ if you want to impress your friends.
  • The type of drug will depend on where you are travelling to and your OWN medical history. Different regions have different species of malaria and different drugs are effective against them. Drug resistance is also a factor in which antimalarial you are prescribed. Drug resistance occurrs in various regions with certain drugs. The choice should always be discussed with a doctor, pharmacist or other qualified health professional. MASTA gives advice based on specific itineraries.
  • Preventative use of antimalarial drugs is not 100% effective, so when in malaria-affected regions always remain vigilant for unexplained illness or fevers.
  • The advice for one patient may be different from that of another patient, as the risks will be dependent on the countries visited and the medical history of the patient. This makes it important that travellers seek out individual medical consultation and advice from a GP or travel clinic.

You may have read about adverse side effects surrounding particular anti malarial drugs, such as Lariam, which have entered the media recently…

  • Different drugs will carry different risks of side effects for different patients (potential common side effects of individual drugs can be found on MASTA website.)

No single drug will be suitable for all patients. The side effects will be often minor compared to malaria itself. These issues should be discussed with the medical professional during consultation though. Don’t be afraid to ask or question the doctor about what you have read or been told about malaria or anti-malarial drugs. Do be afraid of deciding to ignore medical advice based on a newspaper article or a fellow traveller who thinks he knows best. He doesn’t, and he won’t be around to help you if you end up infected with malaria.

Make sure you take anti-malarial drugs

It’s important to follow medical advice. It could save your life:

Several points of advice should be emphasised about antimalarial treatment (all of which should be applied in context of the professional medical advice you recieve for the specific drugs you are prescribed).

Start treatment before you enter the country affected and follow advice dispensed with the drugs. The course must often be started several weeks before entering the region affected by malaria.

  • Always finish the course of treatment even after you leave the country where malaria occurs. Treatment is to carry on for up to four weeks after you leave the malaria-affected country (dependent on drug type). Stopping could lead you at risk to malaria even back in the UK.
  • If your travel circumstances change, seek new advice.

Most of the deaths in travellers could be prevented simply by following the anti-infection measures outlined above and by following your specific medical advice (including making sure you stick to your course of antimalarials!)

Be careful of internet medical advice unless it comes from an official source

What to do if you experience any symptoms mentioned above:

If you experience any of the symptoms above while travelling, even when talking antimalarials, contact a local medical doctor as soon as possible. This applies even up to three months after return from an endemic area.

Malaria can be treated in most cases successfully without complication, but can become serious very quickly from initial onset of symptoms. Immediate medical advice should be sought if you show any of the malarial symptoms.

ALWAYS SEEK  PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE ON ANTIMALARIAL DRUGS

Check out these top travel experiences

Search

Ultimate Explorer – Total New Zealand

from £2300

27 - 28 days

Quite possibly the best way you can see the real NZ and top rated by National Geographic. This trip combines...

Eastern Highlights

from £539

8 days

Their cobbled lanes are useless for cars, their castles have terrible insulation, and their Baroque buildings cost a fortune to...

South Island Snow Safari

from £925

7 days

Welcome to NZ's ultimate guided ski and snowboard tour. We hit 6 different mountains over 7 days and our expert...

Croatian Adventure

from £139

2 days

The intertwining waterfalls are prettier than Da Vinci’s frescos, the bright-green trees are grander than the Notre Dame, and the...

Felucca Explorer

from £295

9 days

Take in the highlights of ancient Egypt, from the legendary Pyramids of Giza to the tomb-strewn Valley of the Kings,...

Sydney to Blue Mountains Day Trip

from £99

1 - 30 days

From the three sisters to beautiful waterfalls, explore the best of the Blue Mountains with Loka.

Egypt & Jordan Discovered By Land

from £533

15 days

Journey through Egypt and Jordan, visit some of the most astounding sites from the old world. Discover two of the...

Springfest

from £105

3 days

Springfest is often referred to as “Little Oktoberfest” but offers a more local experience. Stay with Stoke at their all-inclusive...

South Island Mountain Bike Tour

from £1025

7 days

The South Island is renowned for its outstanding beauty and adventures. Plant your feet on your pedals as you take...

Travel Cambodia & Vietnam

from £1078

24 - 360 days

Go 'Stray' in Cambodia and Vietnam and look forward to an exciting adventure through old world cities, UNESCO temples, ethnic...

Search

Road to Phnom Penh

from £1989

Wander upwards through northern Thailand with street eats by tuk tuk and overnight trains. Then onto Laos to give monks...

Cape Town to Vic Falls

from £1870

Namibia

Get set for an adventure packed with majestic wildlife, remote desert landscapes, noble tribespeople and natural wonders. From the stunning...

Chitwan Extension

from £345

Nepal

Travel to Nepal and visit the Chitwan National Park. Once home to a royal hunting reserve, Chitwan National Park is...

Highlights of South America

from £3087

Peru

Unlucky in love? Out for revenge? Need a cure for hayfever? Get your cocoa leaves read, buy a spell or...

New Zealand Adventure Northbound (ex Christchurch)

from £4235

New Zealand

Visually striking, culturally daring and ever-surprising, New Zealand will charm the socks off even the most reserved traveller. Nature enthusiasts...

Cuba Sailing Adventure

from £1292

Cuba

Spend eight unforgettable days sailing through the island paradise of Cuba. After being captivated by the time capsule that is...

Tortuguero National Park Tour – 5-Day Independent Adventure

from £399

Costa Rica

Spend four days at a lodge in and around Tortuguero National Park. The park is a land of canals and...

Canadian Rockies

from £1485

O Canada! Thank this glorious land for maple syrup, peanut butter and Jim Carrey on this spectacular sojourn through the...

Red Centre Adventure ex Yulara (Basix)

from £420

Australia

The remote town of Yulara is a convenient start point for visitors setting off to the explore the sensational range...

Galapagos Family Holiday

from £3018

Ecuador

The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the rarest animals on the planet and this trip gives the whole...

Find more travel health advice

Search
[contact-form-7 id="4" title="Contact form 1"]