What is malaria?
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a microscopic parasite called a plasmodium, which lives and breeds in the stomach of the mosquito. The severity of the disease can depend on the state of the immune system of the person infected.
Can I catch malaria?
Anyone of any age can catch malaria, if an infected mosquito bites them, whilst in a region where malaria is a problem. The majority of malaria cases in the U.K. are acquired from people going on holiday to countries where malaria occurs.
What countries have malaria problems?
Malaria used to be a widespread problem, but malaria is now mainly confined to Africa, Asia and South America. We strongly advise that before travelling to any country where tropical diseases may be a problem, that you ask your travel agent, doctor or pharmacist for the latest malaria updates. If you do need anti-malaria medication your doctor will advise on which is the most appropriate.
How is malaria spread?
Malaria is spread from person to person by the bite of an infected mosquito. When a mosquito bites a human the malaria parasite, is passed into the bloodstream and quickly makes its way to the liver. Once in the liver it multiplies, and eventually invades the bloodstream.
The infected mosquito can bite you at any time of the day, but most attacks are during the dusk till dawn period. Very rarely the malaria parasite may be passed on to a baby born to an infected mother.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
The symptoms most common with malaria disease include:
- Fever and high temperature
- Muscle aches
- Vomiting – lasting for several hours
The early stages of malaria may resemble the onset of flu, everyone will have different symptoms and develop the symptoms at different speeds. You can develop malaria 6-8 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito or as late as several months after initial infection.
If you are in a country or have recently visited a country, that has any level of malaria risk and you develop any flu like symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately. Inform the doctor of all your previous travel history.
An infected person can develop relapses throughout their life. Although it is uncommon, it is possible to develop malaria months and sometimes years after departure from a country with malaria, even if you were taking preventative medications at the time.
How can I prevent getting malaria?
Presently there is no vaccine available against malaria, but there is medication available that can help prevent travellers becoming infected, whilst visiting countries that are in a high risk area. It is important you know that despite taking preventative measures, you can still catch malaria.
If you are planning to travel to countries where malaria occurs, it is vital you consult your doctor to discuss taking anti-malarial tablets. Anti-malaria tablets will help lower the possibility of contracting the disease. You should normally take anti-malaria tablets a month before you travel, during your holiday and for about a month after returning, so you will need to plan your holiday in advance.
If you are pregnant or planning on trying for a baby either before, during or after taking anti-malaria treatment, you should inform your doctor.
By far the most effective protection against malaria is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes. However, no matter how careful you are you can’t guarantee that you won’t be bitten. The additional protection of anti-malarial tablets is essential to minimize the risks.
Precautions you can take to avoid mosquito bites include:
- If you are out at night, wear clothing that covers as much of your body as possible.
- It is possible for mosquitoes to bite through thin clothing, so spray an insect repellent on yourself before and after dressing, ask your pharmacist for advice.
- Spray insecticides in your room, especially at night.
- Avoid wearing perfumes, colognes and aftershaves as they attract mosquitoes.
- Sleep in a properly screened room or under a bed net (preferably a net impregnated with an insecticide).
Insect repellents, insecticides and bed nets are available from most chemist’s, ask your pharmacist or doctor for details.
How is malaria diagnosed?
The diagnosis is made by an examination of a blood sample that reveals the presence of malarial parasites.
Do infected people need to be isolated?
Isolation is not necessary with patients with malaria and they do not need to be excluded from either work or school, as the disease is not contagious. If you do have a history of malaria you should not donate blood or organs.
Can infected people be treated?
If diagnosed early malaria can be effectively treated, a delay in treatment can have serious consequences. If left untreated malaria can be harder to treat, resulting in organ failure, coma or even death.