Health Protection Agency Warns of Malaria Risk to Travellers

Following 12 recent cases of malaria, mainly among European and North American visitors to the Dominican Republic, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is reminding travellers about the importance of protecting themselves against malaria when travelling to parts of the world where malaria is commonplace, including the Dominican Republic.

All of the cases were of the more dangerous form of malaria, caused by the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, and none of the travellers had taken the necessary preventative antimalarial drugs.

Out of the seven cases of falciparum malaria that have been reported in European travellers returning from Dominican Republic, one was a UK resident. Five North Americans have also contracted the disease in the Dominican Republic -- two of whom were Americans and three were Canadians.

Areas of the world most affected by malaria include Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East and Central and South America. The risk is particularly great in Africa where the potentially fatal falciparum malaria is common. A British resident who recently visited Gambia subsequently died of falciparum malaria. In 2003 all of the fatal cases of malaria reported in the UK were contracted in Africa.

Professor Peter Chiodini, director of the agency's malaria reference laboratory, said, Malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is a serious, potentially fatal disease that is preventable. The agency recommends that all travellers to countries where malaria is prevalent, such as the Dominican Republic and Gambia, take the appropriate preventative medication, to decrease the chances of contracting malaria. With the Christmas holiday season approaching it is important to ensure that travellers seeking winter sun in malarious locations are given adequate preventative advice. This includes last-minute holidays booked over the telephone and on the internet.

"Travellers need to take medication prior to travelling, during their stay abroad and for a period after returning. In addition, simple measures to avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing insect repellent and suitable clothing and sleeping under an insecticide-treated net are also highly effective and add enormously to the benefits of drug protection. These measures are also important because there are other diseases spread by insects for which there is no preventive medication.

Source: HPA