Every single year over 4 million backpackers and travellers visit parts of the world that are at risk of malaria. Less than half of them are not protecting themselves adequately enough against the mosquitoes that carry this potentially fatal disease, meaning that it is more important than ever that all travellers make themselves mosquito ready.
New research suggests that almost half of all travellers heading to at risk areas of malaria are not protecting themselves against mosquito bites adequately enough, and are leaving themselves unprotected against not only malaria itself, but also the host of diseases that mosquitoes carry, from dengue and zika to yellow fever and many others besides.
In 2016 alone a total of 1,618 cases of Malaria were reported in travellers bringing Malaria back into the UK from at risk areas, and of those cases 6 were fatal.
Malaria is a serious tropical disease that can be prevented but can also be fatal if it isn’t diagnosed and treated promptly.
Official NHS advice on avoiding malaria follows a simple A,B,C,D approach.
- Awareness of risk – Speak to a professional in a travel clinic or GP surgery and find out whether you’re at risk of getting malaria before travelling.
- Bite prevention – avoid mosquito bites as much as possible.
- Check whether you need to take malaria prevention tablets – if you do,make sure you take the right antimalarial tablets at the right dose, and finish the course.
- Diagnosis – seek immediate medical advice if you develop any symptoms of malaria, as long as up to a year after you return from travelling.
A lack of knowledge amongst travellers about the first two aspects of this advice is a huge problem, which is why Glenmark has launched Off Somewhere – a campaign encouraging travellers to be aware of the risks of malaria on their trip and the steps they can take to #BeMozzieReady, and prepare themselves from the endless assault of mosquitoes on their travels.
So how do you prevent mosquito bites?
Being aware of the risks of malaria and mosquito bites, and finding out if you are travelling in a high risk area or not is the first step. After that, apart from taking antimalarial prophylaxis the key to preventing malaria lies in not being bitten by infected mosquitoes in the first place, so how exactly do you do this?
Wearing the right clothes.
Wearing the right clothes is essential when trying to prevent mosquito bites. The official advice is often to wear long sleeve tops and long trousers, particularly between the hours of 9pm and 5am which is when the female Anopheles mosquito (the breed that carries malaria) bites, and particularly when near bodies of water or hot and humid environments.
It is also a good idea to use clothing that has a strong thick weave (which makes it less likely that mosquitoes can bite through it) and is also treated with permanent insect repellent. There are a range of brands that sell clothing like this.
Staying in the right accommodation.
Staying in any room or accommodation that is fully sealed with air conditioning or insect repellent screens on any windows or doors significantly (but not completely) reduces the chances of mosquitoes getting around you to bite you in the first place.
Using a net.
A good mosquito net that has been fully treated with permethrin has been statistically proven to significantly reduce the chances of being bitten by a mosquito, and sleeping under one when you are in a high risk malarial area is always a good idea.
DEET sprays containing diethyltoluamide are extremely effective at repelling mosquitoes and other biting insects and clinical evidence suggest they are very safe. There are a variety of strengths right up to 100% but it is generally not necessary or recommended to use a concentration any greater than 50% DEET. You should apply repellents to all exposed skin when outside and reapply regularly as needed dependent on the strength you are using.
What about when bite prevention isn’t enough?
Bite prevention is an essential tool in significantly reducing the risk of getting malaria on your travels, but it will never be 100%. You may have a tear in your net, a mosquito may get under that long sleeve, you may just forget to apply your DEET spray one day or you may simply be unlucky.
And all it takes is just one bite from an infected mosquito to become infected yourself. Just one. But it can be avoided.
That is why if you are travelling to a high risk area for any length of time, it is absolutely essential that you speak to a medical professional and take antimalarial prophylaxis as advised by them.
Taking antimalarial prophylaxis.
There are a lot of myths, misinformation and hyperbole about taking antimalarials, the side effects they have and whether you should take them or not. I can tell you as a qualified nurse the vast majority of that information is incorrect at best and dangerous at worst. I cannot stress this enough, if you are travelling to a high risk area then speak to a fully qualified medical professional first. They will be able to give you the best, most up to date and most reliable information based on your own individual circumstance.
There are a variety of antimalarials available and which one will be right for you on any given trip will depend on a wide variety of factors. This is what you will need to discuss with your GP, nurse specialist or pharmacist.
For most antimalarials you will need a prescription from your GP or nurse specialist, however Maloff Protect (atovaquone/proguanil hydrochloride) can now be obtained over the counter at your local pharmacy or online. It is still recommended that you speak to your pharmacist or nurse specialist before buying and of course always read the labels and instructions carefully, but the process of obtaining them is much simpler which is great news for travellers.
Antimalarial prophylaxis, bite prevention methods and awareness of the risks of malaria and travelling in a high risk area are all essential components in reducing your chances of being bitten and contracting malaria in the first place, and by arming yourself with the information in the #BeMozzieReady campaign and by following the advice of qualified professionals, you can minimize any risk to yourself as much as is possible and travel safely, healthily and malaria free.
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This article was written in partnership with Maloff Protect. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.