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Malaria Is A Continuing Danger To UK Travellers

Armen Hareyan's picture


New figures from the Health Protection Agency show that there were 1758 cases of malaria reported in UK travellers in 2006. Eight of these cases were fatal.

1386 of the cases were due to the potentially fatal Plasmodium falciparum which is a major international health risk and which kills more than a million people a year in Africa. 219 were due to Plasmodium vivax which causes a debilitating disease, but is rarely fatal.

Where the reason for travel is known, 57% of the malaria cases reported in the UK were in people visiting friends and relatives in the tropics.

According to Professor Peter Chiodini, a malaria expert at the HPA "It is a common misconception that people who were born in places where malaria is rife and who now live in the UK, have immunity to malaria. This is not the case because they very quickly lose the partial immunity they might have acquired whilst they lived there, and people who have never lived in these countries have no immunity."

"It is particularly important that people are aware that they are at risk if they do not follow advice on malaria prevention."

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Also in 2006 there was the first imported case of Plasmodium knowlesi (a primate malaria parasite found in parts of Southeast Asia which can occasionally be transmitted to humans). P.knowlesi infection of humans can be prevented in the same way as for other malaria parasites. Whilst of interest, the appearance of this parasite should not distract attention from the serious problems posed by P.falciparum .

Malaria can be caught through the bite of an Anopheles mosquito. It is a potentially life-threatening illness and although it is preventable, many travellers put themselves at risk by not taking the appropriate protective drugs, or not completing the course.

As summer holidays approach, it is essential that travellers to destinations where malaria is present ensure they plan ahead by seeking pre-travel medical advice on which preventive drugs and other measures are appropriate for their destination. A course of such drugs should be started prior to travel and be continued for the whole period advised after returning to the UK.

Equally as important as protective drugs are measures to prevent mosquito bites and these should also be followed carefully when travellers are abroad. These include applying insect repellent, wearing cover-up clothing and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net.

There must be no delay in seeking medical attention in the event of a fever developing within a year of leaving a malarious area, as delayed diagnosis increases the risk of death.

Professor Chiodini said, "It is important for travellers to be aware of the symptoms of malaria, which can be very similar to those of flu. Cases in this country are regularly diagnosed late, which can lead to a more severe illness, so if you become unwell after returning from the tropics, passing on your travel history to your doctor and mentioning the possibility of malaria is crucial."