IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal

Malaria in Returning Travellers

Do you know if your travel destination country has malaria? If so, would you take medication to prevent a malaria infection?

As we pause to take stock of anti-malaria efforts on World Malaria Day, much progress has been made to prevent and control malaria since 2000, mainly a 25% reduction of mortality rates worldwide. Much remains to be done to successfully eradicate infections including direct community involvement, improved housing, access to healthcare, eliminating corruption, and addressing climate change.

From a travel perspective, regional and international mobility, counterfeit malaria medications, growing mosquito resistance to some antimalarial medications – particularly in border areas of Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos – and the presence of malaria in new or previously eradicated areas like Greece, continue to be a concern.Over the years, travel medicine practitioners have been sounding the alarm about the increase of malaria cases in returning travellers. The most recent study looking at imported malaria cases was published last week in PLOS ONE. The University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine found that only 23.8% of travellers from Calgary returning with malaria sought prevention advice and of those, only 60% took preventive medication.

Here at IAMAT, we come across many travellers that take advantage of last-minute travel vacation deals and don’t have the time to research if malaria is a risk at their destination or can’t book a doctor or travel health clinic appointment prior to their departure to get their antimalarial prescription. Some travellers also tell us that the cost of antimalarial medication and travel health consultations can be prohibitive and they weigh the risks of not taking it. We are also seeing more travellers visiting friends and family in malaria endemic areas who believe they are immune to malaria because they lived in the region or had it as a child. Once in a while we also encounter travellers who prefer to take natural remedies which are not scientifically proven to prevent malaria.

Malaria is preventable. The infection is caused by the Plasmodium parasite transmitted by the night time biting (dusk to dawn) female Anopheles mosquito. Her bite does not itch or cause a welt, nor does she hum to warn you of her presence. There are five Plasmodium parasites that infect humans: P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae, and P. knowlesi. P. vivax is the most widely distributed around the world while P. falciparum is the most dangerous and can cause serious health complications, including death.

As a quick guide, follow the ABCD malaria prevention method:

  • Awareness of risk of malaria: Know where it occurs, the impact of seasonal changes and altitude, the health risks, and the symptoms.
  • Bite prevention: Know the mosquito’s behaviour and when it bites, what protective clothing to wear, repellents to use, and how to properly use a bed net.
  • Chemoprophylaxis: Know which antimalarial medication is best for you and follow advice exactly as prescribed. Note that there is no vaccination against malaria.
  • Prompt Diagnosis and treatment: Know when to seek medical attention if you exhibit flu-like symptoms upon your return or suspect you may have been bitten by a mosquito in a malaria area.

For a complete list of malaria countries, see our World Malaria Risk Chart. For detailed prevention advice, including protection measures and medication dosages, side-effects, and contraindications, see our How To Protect Yourself Against Malaria guide. You can also access all our malaria information on our online Travel Health Risks database.

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009