Malaria: top ten tips to minimise the risks

Individuals travelling overseas can be at risk from a range of tropical diseases – few however are quite as high profile, and as endemic, as malaria.

Willis Towers Watson Health & Benefits offers advice on how to minimise the threat of malaria, which infects around 30,000 international travellers every year.

Malaria casts its shadow over more than 100 countries with around three million people dying from the disease around the world each year. From the UK alone, some 1,750 people are infected annually.

Caused by the ‘plasmodium’ parasite that lives in mosquitoes, the disease is a risk in tropical and subtropical regions from Central and South America, South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to the Pacific islands.

When travelling to countries with malaria you should take sensible precautions to avoid being bitten and mitigate the risks:

  • The hours between dusk and dawn pose the greatest risk. Night-biting mosquitoes are more likely to carry malaria and Japanese encephalitis, so try to avoid highly infested areas during these times. Studies have shown that the most prevalent time for bites is around 2am.
  • If possible sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and lower ambient temperatures. This reduces the risk of bites. Where this is not possible, try to stay in rooms with doors and windows that close.
  • If sleeping outdoors or in an unscreened room, do so under mosquito nets impregnated with a pyrethroid insecticide, such as permethrin.
  • 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 DEET (diethyltoluamide) are the most effective. Lemon eucalyptus oil is an alternative for those allergic to DEET. Beware of dangerous myths – garlic, Vitamin B and ultrasound devices do not, for example, prevent bites.
  • Avoid exposing your skin as much as possible when out at night. Wear long-sleeved clothing and long trousers if you are out at night; ankles are a particular target for mosquitoes.
  • Spray light clothing with insecticide or repellent, in addition to your exposed skin. Light clothing, while comfortable in a hot and humid climate, will often offer inadequate protection against mosquito bites.
  • Your risk of malaria will be significantly reduced by taking appropriate anti-malarial medication. Regularly prescribed drugs include Chloroquine, Proguanil, Mefloquine and Doxycycline but remember that no anti-malarial drugs are 100 per cent effective however, and all can have side effects.
  • Consult a GP for advice on which anti-malarial medication to take. If you have taken anti-malarial medicine in the past, you should not assume that the medication is suitable for future trips. The most appropriate medication will depend upon a number of things such as your state of health, any other medication you’re taking, the strain of malaria carried by the mosquitoes and drug resistance in the region you’re relocating to.
  • Be sure to follow all medical advice for taking anti-malarials. 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 affecting humans. You should, however, give serious consideration to the risks of numerous infectious diseases that thrive in the tropics. Click here (http://www.who.int/topics/tropical_diseases/factsheets/en/index.html) for more information from the World Health Organisation on other tropical diseases – from Rift Valley fever to Chagas disease.