Malaria can be a life-threatening disease caused by parasites and spread by mosquito bites. It’s widespread and can be fatal if left untreated. If you’re travelling to a country with malaria, it’s a threat you should take seriously. All it takes is one mosquito bite to become infected.

If malaria is not appropriately treated, it can also cause recurring symptoms that last for years.

Malaria typically carries an incubation period of seven days. This means the time between when you are exposed and when you fall sick is around seven days. You might have even arrived home after your trip. That’s why it’s important to go straight to the doctor if you experience any symptoms - even if you’ve been home for a week.

Malaria can usually be diagnosed through a blood test. High-risk areas for malaria include sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia and Central and South America. Malaria is a tropical disease and most cases of malaria are found in countries near the equator.

In many countries with malaria, urban areas can be free of malaria transmission. The risk of transmission varies from season to season.

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The good news is that there are steps you can take to help prevent exposure. Wearing long sleeves, sleeping under a mosquito net, and using an insect repellent can protect you from bites.

It’s a good idea to consult your GP or travel doctor about what you can do to limit your risk of contracting the disease. Do this prior to departing on your trip so you can be well prepared.

If you’re travelling to a high-risk destination, you might want to think about taking an antimalarial too.

When properly treated, people can often expect a full recovery from malaria.  It’s important to take the necessary precautions and seek medical help as soon as possible if you suspect you have been exposed.

As with most illnesses, the sooner you get diagnosed the better your outcome will be. The usual treatment of malaria depends on the severity of the disease, the type of malaria, and where in the world you caught it.

Your weight and age might also influence how your malaria is treated.

Malaria symptoms usually appear 10-15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Your symptoms might initially be mild, making it difficult to diagnose malaria. The first symptoms to occur are often:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Chills

However, if you don’t seek medical treatment in the first 24 hours, malaria can develop into a serious disease. Malaria can get worse very quickly.

If malaria develops, other symptoms that may appear include:

  • Anaemia
  • Kidney failure
  • Confusion
  • Seizures

It is vital to seek medical help early as malaria can typically be treated with antibiotics.

After a blood test has confirmed malaria, treatment can begin. Medication is usually given as tablets or capsules. Antibiotics may also be given through a drip if you’re very ill.

The treatment for malaria usually lasts about two weeks and can leave you feeling weak and tired for several weeks.

Some people will also relapse so it is important to remain aware and under the care of medical professionals.

If you are pregnant at the time of malaria infection, you should tell your doctor as your treatment may be different.

If you develop symptoms after you return home, tell your doctor where you have been travelling in case it’s a country where malaria is found.

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It is important to take precautions to prevent getting malaria. Before you travel, find out if malaria is common in the countries you will be visiting.

Discuss with your doctor at home if you should take malaria prevention tablets. It is important that you take the correct medication at the correct dose and you finish the course of treatment.

When in the country you should try to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Some measures you can take include:

  • Wear insect repellent that includes DEET
  • Cover your skin with long sleeves and trousers, wear socks and covered shoes
  • Make sure your guesthouse or hotel has screens on the windows
  • Sleep under a mosquito net
  • Sleep in an air-conditioned room
  • Avoid going out at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active
  • Burn mosquito repellant candles

If you are living or spending a few weeks in one location, make sure you get rid of potential mosquito breeding grounds around your accommodation. Try to ensure rainwater cannot gather in pots, blocked gutters, flowerpots or buckets.

While 90% of malaria deaths occur in Africa, malaria is also a threat in some areas of Southeast Asia. It generally occurs outside of urban areas like in jungles and remote villages. Malaria is present in:

  • Indonesia: There is usually no risk of malaria in the cities of Jakarta and Ubud, resort areas of Bali and Java, and the Gili Islands and the Thousand Islands (Pulau Seribu). But there is a risk in all areas of Eastern Indonesia.
  • Cambodia: Risk is low in major cities and in the tourist area of Angkor Wat.
  • Laos: Malaria is present throughout the whole country except for Vientiane.
  • Thailand: There is generally no risk in cities, Phuket and Samui island. There is a risk in the hilly Northern area of the country and some islands and throughout smaller villages.
  • Vietnam: There is a risk of malaria throughout the whole country but typically except for urban areas. High-risk areas include the highland areas and the western parts of the coastal provinces.

While malaria might be a scary thought for travellers to at-risk areas, it’s important to remember that the risk of exposure can be reduced by taking the necessary precautions. There is no need to let the threat ruin your holiday.

Just be prepared and consult with your doctor about the best action for you to take to reduce your chance of contracting malaria.

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More medical tips for travel:

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  2. What you need to know about methanol poisoning
  3. Bali belly – What it is and how to avoid it
  4. Health tips for travelling in Asia
  5. Rabies - Symptoms and prevention




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