Doctors at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine have today issued an urgent warning against the dangers of travelling to malaria-endemic countries without protection.
The alert comes after four North West tourists contracted malaria while on holiday in the Gambia, West Africa. All four had contracted the potentially fatal falciparum form of malaria.
Dr David Lalloo, Clinical Director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine¹s travel clinic, says that thousands of UK travellers are putting their lives at risk by ignoring the threat of malaria when they head off for exotic holidays. As a result, unnecessary deaths from malaria are continuing to rise amongst Britons returning from overseas.
Said Dr Lalloo: “As we understand it, none of these four tourists had taken adequate protection. The two Merseyside men were in a party of eight who went on a fishing trip. Four of the party had taken appropriate anti malarial drugs but the other four had not, including the two who contracted the disease. This underlines the importance of seeking medical advice before travelling to malaria endemic countries.”
Malaria is an infectious disease that is carried by Anopheles mosquitoes that pass on a Plasmodium parasite into their victim¹s bloodstream. They bite mainly between sunset and sunrise and just one bite is enough for a person to contract this potentially life threatening disease.
As Dr Lalloo points out, the number of people returning to Britain with the potentially fatal falciparum form of malaria has grown from around 250 cases in 1977 to up to1,500 annually in recent years.
“Malaria can be prevented but people don¹t think enough about prevention,” said Dr Lalloo. “Ideally, if you are going to a malaria endemic country you should consult your GP or attend a Travel Clinic at least two months before you travel so that you can receive the appropriate advice and drugs and any vaccinations which may be needed for protection against other tropical diseases.
“Even at the last minute, you can still obtain drugs to give you some protection against malaria. You also need to think about covering up, preventing bites with repellents and about using bed nets impregnated with insecticides. Of those British people who got malaria in 2001-2002 while abroad, only 20 per cent were actually taking drugs to prevent malaria and some of those were the wrong kind.”
Dr Lalloo stressed that anyone developing a fever after returning home from a malaria endemic country should always bear in mind that it could be malaria and let their doctor know that they have recently been abroad. Otherwise the symptoms could be misinterpreted as flu.
Some of the most popular holiday destinations with UK tourists carry a malaria risk. Gambia, where these tourists contracted the disease, is one, particularly in the current rainy season. Others include Kenya, Nigeria, India, Ghana and Pakistan. Travellers to South America and Asia are also at risk. People from the UK, who are visiting friends or relatives abroad, have a particularly high risk and do not always think about protecting themselves against malaria.
At least one million people die of malaria every year in sub-Saharan Africa, many of them children. Scientists at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine have recently won a £29million grant from the Gates Foundation to help develop new insecticides and other methods of defeating the mosquito and malaria.
*For further advice, you can call at the Liverpool School of Tropical
Medicine drop in travel clinic in Pembroke Place which is open 9am - 1pm.
Monday to Fridays or use the Travel Help Advice Line.