A single bite from an infected mosquito is all it takes to contract malaria. Fortunately we don't have malaria in the UK but it is widespread in many tropical and subtropical countries. This means anyone travelling to one of these places is at risk unless they take precautions. Public Health England data shows that 6 people from the UK died from malaria in 2018 (the last available figures) following trips to Africa and Asia.
- High fever
- Muscle pain
- Sweats and chills
How is malaria caused?
Malaria occurs if you are bitten by a mosquito that has previously bitten someone infected with malaria. Malaria is caused by a parasite called ‘Plasmodium parasite’. When an infected mosquito bites you the parasite enters your bloodstream and destroys blood cells as it multiples. Infected blood cells burst every 48-72 hours. Each burst is experienced as a bout of fever and sweating.
It can take over a year to develop the symptoms of malaria but the condition is easily confirmed via a simple blood test.
Left untreated malaria can be fatal. The destruction of red blood cells, can lead to anaemia leaving your weak and faint. In rare cases malaria can affect the brain causing permanent damage or coma. It can also cause liver damage, spontaneous bleeding, kidney failure, dehydration, swelling of the spleen and shock (a sudden drop in blood flow).
How is malaria prevented and treated?
If you are travelling to a country that has malaria it is essential to take antimalarial tablets. These should be started prior to travel (some tablets must be taken 3 weeks before you set-off), during your stay and for four weeks (in some cases less depending on the anti-malarial used) after you return to cover the incubation period of the disease.
Commonly used antimalarials include Chloroquine and Proguanil, Doxycycline, Mefloquine (Lariam) and Atovaquone plus Proguanil. Chloroquine and Proguanil can be purchased from the pharmacy. The others need a prescription.
Many antimalarials have side-effects and are not suitable for all people. It’s best to seek advice from a doctor or travel health clinic.
If malaria is treated promptly a person should make a full recovery. The disease is treated with the same antimalarial medicines used for its prevention. A doctor may use a combination of different antimalarials to tackle the disease in case some strains of malaria have become resistant. Treatment is usually taken in tablet form, or intravenously (through a drip) if the patient is very ill.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
No antimalarial is 100% effective so it is important to avoid mosquito bites throughout your stay. The female mosquitos (the ones that bite) mostly come out at night so wear long-sleeved clothing and trousers when out in the evening. Use insect repellents on exposed skin, spray insecticides in rooms or use insecticide impregnated tablets or coils. A mosquito net impregnated with insecticide should also be used if the room is unscreened. The most effective repellents contain diethyltoluamide (DEET).
Contrary to popular belief - garlic and vitamin B do not prevent bites.
Citronella-based products do have repellent properties but provide only short-lived protection. They are not recommended by the *Advisory Committee on Malaria Prevention in UK Travellers (ADMP). The ADMP strongly advises against herbal remedies and homoeopathy for the prevention or treatment of malaria.