What is malaria?
Malaria is a parasitic disease spread through the bites of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes bite to feed on your blood and if they have previously been infected with the malaria parasite, a single bite can infect you with malaria. Every type of malaria is serious, but the strain caused by Plasmodium falciparum is the most serious. Its symptoms can bring on severe illness very quickly and can result in death.
Malaria is present in most tropical regions of the world. If you are travelling to places with malaria, it is essential that you take action to avoid infection (see below). If you have visited places with malaria, you must be aware of the symptoms of infection and seek immediate medical attention should they occur – even if it is months after you have travelled and you took malaria tablets to cover your trip. This is because it is still possible for you to become infected, although far less likely.
Please see the following websites for information on whether the place(s) you plan to visit are known to have malaria:
What are the symptoms of malaria?
Symptoms of malaria normally start to show between 10 and 15 days after infection, but can be seen after as little as seven days. It’s also important to note that the parasite can lie dormant in the body so you could be without symptoms for a year or more. The main symptoms are flu-like and these include:
- Fever of 38°C or above
- Sweats and chills
- Feeling generally unwell
- Aching muscles
With some episodes of malaria, the fever works in cycles with an initial feeling of cold and shivering for an hour or so, then two to six hours of fever followed by extreme sweating. This repeats every two days or so.
Malaria falciparum symptoms can progress very quickly to breathing problems, fits, liver failure, shock, coma and death. If you experience any symptoms of malaria whilst travelling or upon return, you should seek emergency medical treatment.
How to prevent and treat malaria?
Once malaria is caught, it can be very difficult to eradicate from your body unless treatment is initiated quickly. This is because the parasite can lie dormant, protected from anti-malarial treatments. If treatment can be started quickly, the parasite can be killed and most people will make a full recovery. The service offered here is not concerned with treating malaria if caught, but rather the prevention of infection.
If you are travelling to areas with malaria it is essential to take the ABCD approach to preventing infection:
Awareness of risk
Know your risk of malaria by checking if it is present in the places you will visit and understand the level of risk.
Avoid bites as much as possible. Stay somewhere with effective air conditioning and screens on the windows and doors. Alternatively, sleep under mosquito nets treated with insecticide. Use insect repellent and apply frequently. Wear long trousers and sleeves rather than shorts and T-shirts, especially in the early evening and at night when the mosquitoes bite the most.
Take the right anti-malarial tablets. The Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service will help you choose the right medicines and ensure you know how to take it appropriately. You will need to start taking them before you travel, and continue to take them after you return in case some parasites are incubating in your blood. No anti-malarial treatment alone is 100% effective so it’s still very important to take other steps to avoid being bitten.
Get immediate medical help for symptoms.
Pregnant women are more attractive to mosquitoes because of hormonal changes in the blood and so the risk of bites is very high. The risks of getting severe malaria and the risks of damage to you and your baby are very high. For this reason, the World Health Organisation advises pregnant women to avoid travelling to places with malaria.
Which antimalarial medicines can prevent malaria?
There are five medicines predominantly used to prevent infection with malaria. They are Doxycycline, Lariam (mefloquine) and Malarone (atovaquone plus proguanil), which are available only with a prescription from a doctor. Avloclor (chloroquine) and Paludrine (proguanil) can also be prescribed or purchased from pharmacies
Malarone is now also available as a generic medicine called atovaquone and proguanil. This contains the same active ingredients as Malarone and is a fully licensed UK medicine which is used in the same way. The Pharmacy2U Online Doctor can prescribe this generic treatment at significantly lower prices than branded Malarone.
The right anti-malarial medicine for you will be dependent on who you are and your medical history, and where you are intending to travel and the types of malaria present. Your GMC-registered GP at the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service will review your medical history and where you are going, and then authorise the preventative treatment(s) that is right for you and the trip you are planning.
Please see the individual pages for details of each medicine.