Minimising the risks of malaria

An array of tropical diseases lie in wait for employees travelling abroad from Cholera and Typhoid to Hepatitis and Yellow Fever. Few however are quite as high profile, and pose as serious a risk, as malaria, which infects around 30,000 international travellers annually.

Worldwide, up to three million people die from malaria each year with around 1,750 people infected annually from the UK alone.

Caused by the ‘plasmodium’ parasite that lives in mosquitoes, malaria is a risk in tropical and subtropical regions from Central and South America, South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to the Pacific islands. In fact the disease casts its shadow over more than 100 countries.

Businesses sending employees to countries with malaria should fully brief their staff before they leave on how they can avoid being bitten and best mitigate the risks.

Staff should, for example: 

  • take steps to avoid highly infested areas, particularly between dusk and dawn. Night-biting mosquitoes are more likely to carry malaria and Japanese encephalitis, while day-biting mosquitoes are more likely to carry diseases such as Yellow Fever and Dengue Fever.
  • sleep, if possible, in rooms with air-conditioning and lower ambient temperatures which reduces the risks of bites. If this is not possible, they should try to stay in rooms with doors and windows that close.
  • sleep under mosquito nets impregnated with a pyrethroid insecticide, such as permethrin, if out of doors or in an unscreened room. 
  • spray rooms at night with insecticides, and vaporise insecticides during the night by heating insecticide impregnated tablets and burning pyrethroid coils.
  • regularly apply insect repellents. Products containing the chemical diethyltoluamide (DEET) are the most effective.  Lemon eucalyptus oil is an alternative for those allergic to DEET. Avoid being duped by myths – garlic, Vitamin B and ultrasound devices do not, for example, prevent bites.
  • wear long-sleeved clothing and long trousers if they are out at night; ankles are a particular target for mosquitoes. Studies suggest that peak biting time is around 2am.
  • spray thin clothing with insecticide or repellent, in addition to their exposed skin. Light clothing, while comfortable in hot and humid climbs, will often provide insufficient protection against mosquitoes, which are more than capable of biting through.
  • be aware that their risk of malaria will be greatly reduced if they take appropriate anti-malarial medication. Some of the more common drugs include Chloroquine, Proguanil, Mefloquine and Doxycycline. Remember that no anti-malarial drugs are 100 per cent effective and all can have side effects.
  • employees should consult their GP, or employers should refer them to a medical professional, for advice on which anti-malarial medication to take. If employees claim to have taken anti-malarial medicine in the past, they should not assume that the medication is suitable for future trips. The medicine they require will depend upon variables such as their health, any other medication they’re taking, the strain of malaria carried by the mosquitoes and drug resistance in the region they’re travelling to.
  • follow the instructions for taking anti-malarial tablets carefully. Anti-malarial tablets may have to be taken before a trip abroad, during the visit and after returning home to cover the disease’s incubation period.

Malaria is said to be the most prevalent and dangerous parasitic disease afflicting humans. Businesses however should give serious consideration to, and warn employees of, the risks of numerous infectious diseases that thrive in the tropics. Click here ( for more information from the World Health Organisation on other tropical diseases – from buruli ulcer disease to yellow fever.

Call Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits on 01606 353260 or complete the contact form for more information.