What is it?
Found in the subtropics of Africa, PNG, Solomon Islands and to a lesser extent Asia and South/Central America, malaria remains the most common fatal infectious disease in travellers. The malaria mozzies predominantly bite in rural forested, jungle areas between sunset and sunrise, and tend to be in greater abundance in the wet season; although closer to the equator they breed and bite year round. The disease presents a minimum of 1 week after being bitten, with a high fever (alternating sweats and chills) along with a wide variety of other symptoms which may be confused with other diseases. The malaria parasite invades red blood cells, and some forms can rapidly overwhelm the body, leading to cerebral malaria affecting the brain, kidney failure, shock and death if not diagnosed and treated promptly.
How to prevent malaria?
There are no vaccines against malaria. Mosquito bite avoidance is the mainstay of prevention – see our separate fact sheet. Essentially this involves using DEET or Picaridin repellents, wearing long sleeves/ trousers when outdoors in the evening, sleeping under nets or in screened/air-conditioned accommodation, using knockdown sprays before going to bed, and for higher risk areas using permethrin impregnated clothing. Preventative medication may be recommended if the risk warrants it. There is more than one type of medication available and a doctor needs to discuss the most appropriate for you and your itinerary. These anti-malarial medications provide over 90% protection against falciparum malaria, the most dangerous form of malaria and form part of the overall risk reduction strategy.
What if I think I’ve got Malaria?
Falciparum Malaria will usually present between 7 and 28 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Other forms of malaria can present up to a year after travel. As such it is imperative to get a blood test for malaria in case of ANY fever after travel to a risk area. Treatment is available and effective, provided it is started swiftly. Emergency treatment options can be used in certain circumstances but an evacuation plan to a good medical facility for proper diagnosis and monitoring should also be in place.
Malaria is worse in children and pregnant women and in some cases we would advise these travellers against travel to certain malarial areas.