Every year up to 2000 cases of imported malaria occur in those who have visited malarious countries, with about eight deaths a year. The majority of infections occur in UK travellers visiting family and friends in Africa and this was 62% of all cases in 2008. Many cases occur when people return home after travelling abroad.
Professor Peter Chiodini, who heads up the HPA’s Malaria Reference Laboratory, said:
“People who were born in places where malaria is rife but who now live in the UK do not have immunity to malaria. They quickly lose any partial immunity they may have acquired once they leave the malarious country. People born in the UK also have no immunity against malaria.
“Malaria is a serious illness which can lead to death so it is very important that people plan their trip in advance and take anti-malarial medicine before travelling. We advise anyone who is planning to travel to consult their GP practice at the earliest opportunity.”
Martha Osamor, from the Nigerian Organisation of Women, gave the following advice: “Why ruin your holiday and expose you and your family to malaria? If you’re going abroad this winter it’s extremely important that you take the appropriate drugs and other preventative measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bites.”
Diana Chituku, of NHS City & Hackney, said: “Why get malaria as a Christmas present? The message is clear that even those of us born in Africa but now living in the UK have lost our partial immunity to malaria.”
Justice Acungwire, from AHEAD (African Health for Empowerment and Development), added: “Malaria is preventable – anyone travelling to a place where malaria is found needs to speak with their GP surgery or a specialist travel clinic before they travel and follow the advice given. The advice is the same for all UK travellers – you must take anti-mosquito precautions and medication to keep you and your family safe.”
What to do if you’re planning a trip abroad to a malarious country:
• Anti-malarial medication greatly reduces the risk of infection but the full course must be taken so that all parasites are cleared from the blood. Book an appointment well in advance with the practice nurse at your surgery before you travel to get the tablets.
• Be aware of the risk of malaria and avoid being bitten. Although many homes in urban areas may be well protected against mosquitoes, those in rural areas may be less protected and there may be more mosquitoes around. Make sure you put on insect repellent and cover your arms and legs when sitting outside in the evening, especially after dusk.
• If you do become unwell after returning from a malarious area, seek medical advice immediately. Malaria can quickly turn from what seems to be a minor illness into one which is much more serious. Make sure you say that you have been travelling to a malarious country and mention needing a blood test for malaria.
• Be aware of the symptoms of malaria – which include a flu-like illness, fever, shaking, headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea may also occur.
The Black Health Agency, the Ernest Foundation, the Nigerian Public Health Network and African Women’s Care, together with the Health Protection Agency’s London malaria experts (Dr Margie Meltzer, Penny Neave, Dr Barry Walsh and Dr Srimalini Nadarajah) are all endorsing the advice.