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Malaria Travellers Guide

What is malaria and how serious can it be?

Malaria is caused by a parasite that gets into your body when a mosquito carrying the disease bites you. Each year around 1750 travellers return to the UK with malaria, which in some cases turns out to be fatal.

You cannot have a vaccination against malaria, but you can take malaria tablets to protect yourself (sometimes called prophylaxis). It is very important that you get the right tablets for the region you are visiting. Most UK travellers who catch malaria either do not take malaria tablets, or do not take the right tablets for the risk areas they visit.

People who are originally from countries where malaria is found, who now live in the UK, sometimes believe that they, and their children, have malaria immunity. This is not true; any immunity you may have disappears quickly once you leave the risk area and children born outside risk areas will not have any immunity at all.

Malaria symptoms?

Some malaria symptoms can seem rather like flu, but malaria can be very serious if it progresses to a lifethreatening coma.

Symptoms can include:

Temperature greater than 38°C


Chills with sweating

Muscle aches


Severe symptoms:

Life-threatening coma can develop within 24 hours of the first symptoms appearing

What to do if you are worried that you've got malaria

You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the signs and symptoms of malaria, either while you are away, or for up to a year after your return.

Malaria is diagnosed by a blood test and can be treated with drugs. Malaria self-treatment kits may be recommended for those travelling more than 24 hours away from medical help.

Following travel health nurse advice

Malaria is found in many tropical areas, including large parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, parts of the Middle and Far East and some Pacific Ocean Islands,such as Papua New Guinea.

If a travel health nurse has recommended malaria tablets for you this could be because:

Malaria is a problem in the place you are travelling to (this may be down to the region, not just the country)

You are travelling at a time of year when malaria is problematic

Your overall level of risk is high

There are several different drugs that help protect against malaria. It is very important to take the right one for the area(s) you are travelling to.

Travel nurses consider whether these drugs will interact with any other medicines you may be taking and make sure that children get the drug and dose that is correct for them.

In many areas malaria is now resistant to the anti-malarials available over-the-counter at a pharmacy. For most areas prescription only drugs are recommended. Travel clinics stock the full range of anti-malarials.

Ideally, arrange your preventative medicine at least three weeks before you travel

Depending on which anti-malarial you need, you might have to start taking tablets up to 3 weeks before you travel.

Once you have your malaria-prevention tablets, read the instructions for use carefully and take the tablets exactly as recommended - right to the end of the course.

If you have made your travel plans late and have less than 3 weeks before you travel, contact your Travel Health Clinic immediately. Malaria tablets are still worthwhile, even for last minute travellers.

Malaria protection: summary of action to be taken

Take the correct preventative drugs for the region(s) you are travelling to w/ the instructions on the box and take your tablets for the correct length of time before you travel.

Finish the complete course