Travellers To Africa, Asia Ignore Health Messages About Preventing Malaria

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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A study by the Health Protection Agency’s Malaria Reference Laboratory (HPA) and published in today’s BMJ.com shows that despite highly effective measures available to prevent malaria, the burden of disease among UK travellers has steadily increased over the last 20 years.

There were 39,300 cases of malaria in the UK between 1987 and 2006. Of these 20,488 were in UK travellers (visitors from the UK to malarious countries) and the remainder were among visitors to the UK.

The majority of the malaria cases in UK travellers (65 per cent) were in people visiting friends or family in Africa or South Asia .

Worryingly, only 42 per cent of UK travellers reported taking any appropriate medication to prevent malaria. People visiting friends and family in their country of origin were less likely to report using preventative measures than other travellers although they were more likely to acquire malaria compared to other groups.

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This study, examining 20 years of records, is supported by the latest information on UK malaria cases for 2007. Published by the Agency in April this year, figures showed that there were 1,548 cases of malaria reported among UK travellers last year. Where the reason for travel was recorded, 72% of cases among UK travellers were in those visiting friends and relatives abroad. Figures also show that 83% of malaria patients had not taken any protective drugs against malaria.

Professor Peter Chiodini, who heads up the Agency’s Malaria Reference Laboratory, said: “It is vital that anyone travelling to an area where malaria is a risk seeks medical advice before their trip. This is particularly true for people travelling to visit friends and relatives who have been shown to take less precautions to protect themselves than other people who are on holiday.

“There is a prevailing myth that travellers who were born in a malaria-endemic country such as Africa have some ‘natural’ immunity to malaria and this is simply not the case. Like all other people who go to Africa and Asia they need to make sure they take their anti-malaria drugs and follow the guidelines that are there to protect everyone.

“Without taking the appropriate protective drugs and using other preventative measures to prevent mosquito bites, UK travellers are exposing themselves to a killer disease that is almost completely preventable.

“Talk to your GP surgery or travel health clinic about appropriate measures for your own trip. Despite it being almost completely preventable, many people in the UK are being caught out by malaria. Please don’t be one of them.”

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