What is malaria?

Malaria is a mosquito-borne parasitic infection of the tropics. It is a huge problem worldwide with 216 million cases  a year  and is often devastating with an estimated 655,000 deaths. Most of these occur in Africa.The parasite is the Plasmodium with five species; falciparum, malariae,  vivax, ovale and knowlesi. Falciparum malaria is the most serious form and can be fatal without treatment

How do I get malaria?

The parasite is transmitted by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. Following an incubation period ( the time from infection to the onset of symptoms) of 7 to 30 days, the symptoms begin. The symptoms of malaria can be extremely varied but fever and headache are common. Sometimes, malaria can mimick other illnesses and present with symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting, cough or jaundice.The important fact is to consider the possibility is malaria in anyone who has  a fever within a month after return from a malarious country (see below)

Where can I get malaria?

Malaria is endemic over a wide area  in the tropics such as parts of South America, South East Asia and much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Tourists should be particularly aware of the risk of malaria with package holidays in Gambia in West Africa


Malaria is usually diagnosed  by direct light microscopy of  a small sample of blood. The blood is first stained with a dye and then the malaria parasite can be seen within the red blood cells


Patients with falciparum malaria can be treated with quinine and doxycycline or malarone or artesunate for 7 days. The other species are treated with 4 doses of chloroquine tablets. P. vivax and ovale may have a liver stage to their life cycle and therefore can relapse several months after treatment. Primaquine should therefore be given around the same time as the initial treatment to eradicate liver parasites

Prevention of malaria

Taking prophylactic (preventative) anti-malarials can significantly reduce the chances of getting malaria. Depending on the destination, various drugs are available. Advice should be sought from a specialist clinic with expertise in travel medicine

Is there a malaria vaccine?

Unfortunately there isn't yet an effective vaccine on the market