What is malaria & how do you catch it?
Malaria is a serious disease that in some cases can be fatal, so it’s worth knowing the facts before you visit a country that could put you at risk. The disease is caused by a plasmodium parasite that first infects a specific type of mosquito, and is then contracted by humans when bitten by an infected mosquito. The parasite begins by multiplying in the liver before infecting the red blood cells. It can be categorised in three ways: uncomplicated malaria, severe malaria and cerebral malaria.
Signs & symptoms
The destruction of the red blood cells tends to create fever and flu-like symptoms. There is no symptom that precisely indicates the malaria disease. It’s crucial you seek medical advice without delay for diagnosis and treatment should you feel concerned or display the following:
• High temperature (fever)
• Muscle aches
• Generally unwell
• Nausea and vomiting
You should also keep in mind that malaria symptoms can appear at any time from within a week to a year after an initial bite, so be aware of any changes in health when you return from your trip and seek urgent medical advice. You should inform the clinician that you have travelled to a country with a malaria risk.
Malaria can be treated with different medication depending on the type of malaria, where it was contracted and the severity of the symptoms. Once malaria is diagnosed, treatment should be started immediately.
While there is no licensed vaccination yet, there are preventative measures that you can take to help protect yourself from the disease. Antimalarial tablets are recommended for some countries, although sometimes only for certain travellers who may be at a higher risk of disease or at higher risk of complications should they contract malaria.
Bite avoidance measures are always recommended for all travellers when visiting a malaria risk area. You should seek advice about whether antimalarials are needed for the country you are visiting and, if recommended, you should take them as directed by your pharmacist, including for the appropriate length of time after you return from the malarial area. You should also bear in mind that no antimalarial medication is considered 100% effective, so the following preventative measures should also be taken:
• Be aware of the risk of malaria in the country and specifically for the city or region you’re visiting
• Seek advice about what preventative medications you should use in the region from your Boots pharmacist
• Even if you’ve travelled to a region before, double-check antimalarial advice to ensure there have been no changes to official guidance
• Obtain antimalarial drugs before leaving home to avoid using preventative drugs bought while you’re away as their quality cannot be guaranteed
• Your pharmacist will consider the risk for the individual – advice can differ for children, elderly travellers and pregnant women – plus those with any existing medical conditions
• Always ensure you have easy access to insect repellents, insecticides and pre-treated bed nets
• Remind yourself of the symptoms of malaria and seek immediate medical advice if you develop flu-like symptoms any time up to a year after travel
• Opt for an air-conditioned room if possible
• Avoid camping by stagnant water
• Wear clothes that cover your skin at times when mosquitoes are most likely to be around (especially after sunset)
Malaria prevention medicine
There are multiple different antimalarials that are used to help prevent the disease being caught. These include Atovaquone proguanil, Chloroquine, Doxycycline and Mefloquine tablets. Which medicine you’ll be prescribed depends on factors such as where you’re traveling and the type of malaria that’s prevalent in the area you’re traveling to.
Whilst the types of medicine used to prevent catching malaria are different, they all work the same way: by killing the malaria parasites when they’re in your liver or red blood cells.