Malaria is a serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. If malaria is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can be fatal.
A single mosquito bite is all it takes for someone to become infected.
Symptoms of malaria
It is important to be aware of the symptoms of malaria if you are travelling to areas where there is a high malaria risk (see below). Symptoms include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- sweats and chills
- muscle pains
Symptoms usually appear between seven and 18 days after becoming infected, but in some cases the symptoms may not appear for up to a year, or occasionally even longer.
When to seek medical attention
Seek medical help immediately if you develop symptoms of malaria during or after a visit to an area where the disease is found, even if it is seven weeks, months or a year after you return from travelling.
If there is a possibility you have malaria, a blood test will be carried out to confirm whether or not you are infected.
You should receive the results of your blood test on the same day if you have malaria, treatment will be started straight away.
What causes malaria?
Malaria is caused by a type of parasite known as plasmodium. There are many different types of plasmodia parasites, but only five cause malaria in humans.
The plasmodium parasite is mainly spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes, which predominantly bite at night. When an infected mosquito bites a human, it passes the parasites into the bloodstream.
Malaria can also be spread through blood transfusions and the sharing of needles, but this is very rare.
Malaria risk areas
Malaria is found in more than 100 countries, mainly in tropical regions of the world, including:
- large areas of Africa and Asia
- Central and South America
- Haiti and the Dominican Republic
- parts of the Middle East
- Pacific islands
The World Malaria Report, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013, states that in 2012 there were 207 million cases of malaria worldwide and 627,000 deaths.
Malaria is not found in the UK, although about 1,400 travellers were diagnosed with malaria after returning to the UK from the areas above in 2012. Two people died.
The Fit for Travel website has more information about the risk of malaria in specific countries.
Many cases of malaria can be avoided. An easy way to remember is the ABCD approach to prevention:
- Awareness of risk – find out whether you’re at risk of getting malaria before travelling.
- Bite prevention – avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering your arms and legs and using an insecticide-treated mosquito net.
- Check whether you need to take malaria prevention tablets – if you do, make sure you take the right antimalarial tablets at the right dose, and finish the course.
- Diagnosis – seek immediate medical advice if you develop malaria symptoms, including up to a year after you return from travelling.