Although the risk of contracting malaria is low if prevention medications are taken, there is still a small risk despite this, and medications are not 100% effective. Often malaria symptoms can be delayed for some time after coming back from holiday…This time is known as the incubation period. The minimum incubation period for malaria is 6 days and this time depends on the type of Plasmodium present within the body.
The most common, P. Falciparum usually presents within 1 month of being bitten by an infected mosquito and no later than 6 months. However, other species such as P. Vivax can present up to several years after exposure.
Due to a potential delay in malaria symptoms due to the incubation period, it’s really important for you to know some of the main symptoms of malaria, to recognise this could be a potential cause. These include shaking, chills, sweating, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain and yellowing of the skin (jaundice).
These symptoms are quite generalised in nature, and could also be due to a host of other less serious issues. If there is any doubt you should seek medical health advice urgently, especially if you have been in a malaria zone recently.
Malaria in the UK
In 2015, 1,400 cases of imported malaria were reported in the UK and mainly caused by P. Falciparum. The overwhelming majority of these patients had not taken precautionary measures against malaria before travelling. Anyone who visits a malaria-endemic country is at a much higher risk of acquiring malaria if no preventative measures are taken.
There are specific people in the population that are at increased risk of developing severe or complicated malaria. This includes children, pregnant women, elderly travellers and people with a reduced immune system. In the case of malaria with P. Falciparum, mortality is 20% higher in pregnant women and children under the age of three years.
These specific groups of people should avoid countries that are malaria-endemic due to the increased risk of severe disease and death should they acquire malaria. However, this may not be practical and should you need to travel in a malaria-endemic area, you should consult a health professional in person to determine what the best course of action should be.
Pregnant women can face several complications as parasites can invade the placenta; including premature birth, low birth weight, restricted growth, stillbirth and miscarriage. For more information regarding malaria and pregnancy click on http://bit.ly/RCOGPregnancyMalaria
Preventing infection & Your Treatment Options
We have covered this information in a separate article on Malaria Prevention including medications to prevent malaria available on the website. You can check your risk of malaria and the right medication required to prevent malaria for your travel region on the FitForTravel website www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.
Antimalarial tablets help protect against malaria, significantly reducing the risk by about 90%, but they are not available on the NHS. A doctor may write a private prescription, you could be seen by a travel clinic or even easier, order online from TheDoctorService.co.uk which is cheaper and easier. It is key that you sought advice and are taking appropriate precautions before travelling.
Edited by Dr Kiran Sodha & The Doctor Service
Find out more about malaria symptoms from the references below.
- Mohandas, Narla, and Xiuli An. “Malaria and human red blood cells.” Medical microbiology and immunology 201.4 (2012): 593-598.
- Malaria; World Health Organization, 2016