Malaria What You Need To Know
Every year, well over a thousand travellers are diagnosed with malaria after returning to the UK. In 2012, for example, 1,378 cases were diagnosed in the UK – and the year before that, there were 1,677 cases. Every year, some of these people die.
Taken globally, malaria kills a child roughly every minute. In total, it’s estimated that a million people or more die from malaria each year.
So as a traveller, malaria is a disease you need to take seriously. The good news is that you can take simple steps to protect yourself against malaria.
How you get malaria
You contract malaria if you’re bitten by a single Anopheles mosquito that has been infected with malaria parasites, or plasmodia. The parasites then enter your blood stream. Anopheles mosquitoes typically bite between dusk and dawn.
The most common symptoms of malaria are
- recurring high fever
- sweats alternated with chills and shivering
- joint and muscle pain
Usually the symptoms will appear only 8 to 25 days after you’ve been bitten. In some cases, symptoms don’t appear for up to a year, which can make the disease tricky to diagnose.
If you develop any of the symptoms after you’ve visited a malaria risk area, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Also note that you can still get malaria even if you were taking the proper anti-malaria medication – so don’t rule it out as a possibility.
Where you get malaria
Malaria occurs in over 100 countries. It’s the most prevalent in a broad band around the equator, in tropical and subtropical parts of
- sub-Saharan Africa
- Central and Southeast Asia
- parts of Central and South America
- parts of the Middle East, including India
Do your research
It’s important to check the malaria risk in areas you’ll be visiting so you can prepare properly before you get there. The risk in different parts of the world changes from year to year, and even in different seasons. Also, the risk of malaria might be high in some parts of a country but extremely low in others, or high in rural areas but non-existent in large cities. The best rule of thumb is to do your research before you go.
Useful sites for updated information on malaria in different countries include
- the NHS Fit for Travel web site, at http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations.aspx
- the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, Traveller’s Health site at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/
What you can do to prevent malaria
If you’ll be visiting areas that pose a malaria risk, you can take three simple steps to protect yourself:
- speak to your GP beforehand and take recommended malaria prevention tablets as prescribed – even if these tablets have some undesirable side-effects, they could save your life
- avoid being bitten – use insect repellant, keep your arms and legs covered especially after dusk and use a mosquito net, and
- act fast if you develop possible symptoms – get to a nearby hospital or clinic if you’re in any doubt
As a final point, don’t let fear of malaria ruin your travels. Although you should take malaria seriously, remember that millions of people visit malaria risk areas every year without contracting the disease. Also, malaria is largely preventable and treatable. Provided you’ve taken sensible precautions, relax and enjoy your trip!