Travel advice: how to prevent malaria

Wherever you’re going, there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss off your holiday preparation list: talking to a doctor about your malaria risk.

What is malaria?

Most of us know that malaria is a tropical disease spread by mosquitoes – but many remain in the dark about exactly how it is spread and the medical complications it causes.

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite; when a female Anopheles mosquito bites someone infected with this parasite, they can spread it to other people they bite. The parasite travels to the liver, once it is in the bloodstream and multiplies. Every 48 to 72 hours, infected blood cells burst and release more parasites, which is what causes malaria’s characteristic symptoms: bouts of flu-like chills, fever and fatigue, followed by ‘rest’ periods.

Malaria is typically found Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, however it is also a problem in parts of the Caribbean, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands.

How can I protect myself against malaria?

There are several different things you can do to protect yourself against malaria while you travel.

Checking the risk

The first step is finding out whether your destination is a malaria risk zone. An easy way to do this is to visit Fit For Travel’s destination page; find the country or countries you are visiting and consult their malaria information. You will often find that certain areas within a country are ‘low to no risk’, while others are ‘high risk’ – this means that you will need to adapt your malaria prevention habits depending upon the areas you travel through.

If you aren’t sure whether your destination is a malaria zone, book a travel consultation with a doctor. Bear in mind that malaria zones often change – so even if you had a friend safely visit the same destination five years ago, it may have since developed into a high risk area.


Malaria tablets

Travelling to, or through, high risk malaria zones isn’t necessarily cause for alarm – as long as you take the correct steps to protect yourself.

There is no vaccine for malaria, so to protect yourself when you are in a high risk zone, you will need to take anti-malarials. Malaria tablets can reduce your risk of malaria by 90% when taken correctly. They are either taken once a day or once a week (depending on the type), and the course must be commenced before you enter the malaria zone and after you leave it.

At Lloyds Online Doctor, we prescribe two anti-malarials: Atovaquone with Proguanil (under the brand name Malarone), and Doxycycline. You can read more about the different types of malaria tablets here.

Bite prevention

A mistake that many travellers make is forgetting to protect themselves against mosquito bites. When you are in a country that has any degree of malaria risk, you should avoid being bitten. This is important even if you are taking malaria tablets.

The mosquitoes that spread malaria (Anopheles) are mostly active at dusk or dawn, or during the night. This means that you should be the most careful during the evening, when you go to bed, and when you first wake.

Where possible, you should stay in accommodation that has malaria screens on the doors and windows. Air conditioning is also helpful, as it reduces the need to keep windows open during the night. If you can’t sleep in this kind of accommodation, make sure you sleep under a mosquito net that’s been treated with mosquito repellent.

You will also need to wear mosquito repellent, ideally one which contains DEET. At night, and during the day, you should try to wear long, loose-fitting trousers and long-sleeved tops. You should apply repellent to any exposed areas, taking care to reapply as recommended.

Mosquito repellents come as creams, sprays, roll-ons and sticks; those with the highest concentration of DEET are the most effective.

What should I do if I develop malaria symptoms?

If you’ve been travelling in a malaria zone, and you develop symptoms whilst there, or after returning home, you should seek medical help as soon as possible. If you have contracted malaria, you will need to receive immediate treatment.

Malaria symptoms normally start seven to 18 days after you have been infected, although sometimes they take much longer to develop. They usually include a fever, headache, sweating, chills, muscle pain and vomiting. As we’ve pointed out previously, the symptoms typically move in cycles of around 48 hours, lasting six to 12 hours each time.

To learn more about malaria and begin an online consultation, visit the Lloyds Online Doctor Travel Vlinic.


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