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How to Prevent Malaria
Learn how to protect yourself from malaria
Malaria is a tropical disease which is found across the world in a number of popular travel destinations. It is particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, although it is also found in other areas such as the Middle East and islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.
If you are planning a trip to a country affected by malaria, it’s important that you research your specific risk and acquaint yourself with malaria prevention techniques. The safest thing to do is to book an appointment with your GP, or arrange a travel consultation with a service such as LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor or MASTA.
In the meantime, read on for our guide to preventing malaria.
ABCD malaria prevention
To aid in the prevention of malaria, global health bodies such as the NHS and the World Health Organization promote the use of the ABCD method. This stands for:
- Awareness of risk
- Bite prevention
- Diagnosis and treatment
A: Awareness of risk
The first step in malaria prevention is finding out whether or not you will be at risk of malaria in the areas you are travelling to. Even if the country or countries you are visiting are affected by malaria, you may only be at risk of the disease in certain areas.
“Awareness” in this case also refers to familiarising yourself with the particulars of the disease e.g. how it is spread, what the symptoms are. The more you know about malaria, the better equipped you are to stay protected.
You should do your research – ideally with guidance from a medical professional – before you leave the UK. That way you can make sure that you have all the medicines and information you may require.
B: Bite prevention
Upon arriving in a country affected by malaria, you should begin practising bite avoidance. Protecting yourself from mosquito bites is the best way to avoid malaria. It will also keep you safe from other dangerous mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever.
Upon entering particularly high-risk areas for malaria, it is likely that you will need to take antimalarials, however you should continue to practise bite prevention techniques. This is because antimalarials are not 100% effective. You should be particularly cautious with bite avoidance between dusk and dawn as this is when female Anopheles mosquitoes (the kind that spread malaria) are most active.
Bite prevention techniques include:
- Covering your skin with trousers and long-sleeved tops
- Applying mosquito repellent to areas of exposed skin (see Effective Mosquito Repellents below)
- Sleeping in accommodation with insect screens on the doors and windows
- Sleeping in accommodation with air conditioning, as the mosquitoes that carry malaria are less active in cold temperatures
- In more basic accommodation, sleeping underneath a long-lasting insecticidal net (LLIN)
- Using plug-in insecticides inside your accommodation
Chemoprophylaxis is a word which describes medicines administered to prevent (rather than treat) sickness. Malaria chemoprophylaxis takes the form of antimalarial tablets, of which there are a few different varieties.
Currently, the three most commonly prescribed antimalarial tablets in the UK are:
- Atovaquone and Proguanil (Malarone, Maloff)
- Mefloquine (Lariam)
It’s recommended that you obtain antimalarials with a prescription, as it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor or nurse about your specific needs before you buy the medication.
However, it is possible to purchase two antimalarials, Maloff Protect and Chloroquine/Proguanil, without a prescription in the UK. If you want to buy your malaria tablets over the counter, it’s recommended that you talk to a medical professional before doing so. In most malaria zones, Chloroquine/Proguanil does not provide effective protection against the most common and deadly type of malaria, which means it is not usually a suitable form of chemoprophylaxis.
Even if you are visiting an area affected by malaria, the use of antimalarials may not be necessary, so you should always check with a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. If you do end up taking antimalarials you should make sure you continue to practise the bite avoidance techniques described above.
D: Diagnosis and treatment
Even if you follow the three steps above, you could still contract malaria whilst travelling through a high-risk zone. For that reason, it’s important that you familiarise yourself with the symptoms of malaria to facilitate swift diagnosis and treatment.
Malaria normally has an incubation period of seven to 18 days. This means that, after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the disease, you typically won’t develop symptoms for at least one week. If you arrive in a malaria zone (from a non-malaria zone) and start to experience symptoms within a few days, it is unlikely that you have malaria.
Most people who contract malaria experience the following symptoms:
- A fever
- Chills and shivering
- Profuse sweating
It’s also common to suffer from headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and aches and pains.
The classic characteristic of malaria is cyclical bouts of symptoms: a fever, followed by chills, and finally sweating, occurring every two or three days. Not everyone who has malaria will experience these cyclical symptoms; if you begin to experience any of the symptoms described above, and you have spent time in a malaria zone recently you should immediately seek medical assistance. Swift diagnosis and treatment will help you to recover from the disease more quickly and avoid serious complications.
Be aware that certain types of malaria parasite can survive in the liver for months, and even years, meaning future relapses are possible after you have suffered an initial bout of symptoms.
Effective Mosquito Repellents
Malaria prevention should always involve the use of mosquito repellent, applied whenever required to exposed areas of skin.
The most effective mosquito repellents contain a concentration of DEET between 20% and 50%. When using repellent with 20% DEET you will be protected for approximately one to three hours; when using repellent with 50% DEET you will be protected for up to 12 hours.
If you cannot use DEET or if it is not available, there are some alternative treatments to consider.
Icaridin, or picaridin, is thought to provide the same protection as repellents with 20% DEET.
Lemon eucalyptus is thought to provide the same protection as repellents with 15% DEET.
To find out more about malaria prevention, visit the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor Malaria Clinic, where you can read medical articles and order malaria tablets.