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Malaria is an infection spread via mosquito bites. It causes infection of the liver and blood and can lead to serious illness or death if not treated quickly. When travelling to high-risk areas, you should take measures to avoid mosquito bites.

Did you know?

  • Malaria causes over 300 million infections and around 900,000 deaths worldwide each year.1
  • In Australia, almost all cases of malaria are acquired while travelling with approximately 500 cases reported every year2.
Two young women laughing with each other, sitting by a lake.

What is it?

Malaria is an infection of the liver and red blood cells caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes.

People who get malaria can become very sick with flu-like symptoms, including high fevers and shaking chills. If the infection is not treated, it can cause serious illness and death.

Malaria isn’t commonly found in Australia but travellers can catch the disease while travelling to tropical regions of Asia, Africa, Central and South America, Eastern Europe and the South Pacific.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of malaria usually appear within 7 to 30 days, but they can develop many months after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • headaches
  • muscle pain
  • generally feeling unwell.

If malaria is not treated quickly, symptoms can become more severe and without prompt treatment it can lead to death.

This is not a full list of symptoms that can occur following malaria infection. If you feel unwell while travelling or when you return home, make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible.

How is it spread?

The malarial parasites are found in mosquitoes which tend to be more active at dawn and dusk. The parasites are transmitted to humans into the blood through a bite of infected mosquitoes.

Who is at risk?

You are at risk of malaria if you travel to areas where malaria is present, particularly if you spend time outdoors (including sleeping outside). 

  • All travellers – including those returning to their home country to visit family and friends – should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites,

Other people may be at risk of malaria infection. Please speak to your doctor regarding your individual circumstances.

How to help prevent malaria

  • The best way to reduce the risk of malaria is by taking the following two measures.

    1. Preventing mosquito bites (particularly between sunset and sunrise, when mosquitoes are most active).

    • Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats,
    • Use an appropriate insect repellent as directed,
    • Use an insecticide-treated bed net.

    2. Taking specific medicines to prevent malaria.

    • There are prescription medicines you can take to prevent malaria. Talk to your doctor about which medicine is best for you.
    • Take this medicine before, during, and after your trip as directed by your doctor.

Treatment

Malaria is treated with anti-malarial medication and should be started as soon as possible. The type of treatment can depend upon:

  • disease severity
  • the type of parasite and where the person was infected
  • any existing medical conditions
  • if you are taking and/or are allergic to any medication
  • if you are pregnant.

Important information

It is important to plan ahead and see your doctor at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel to discuss immunisation and travel health.

Some side effects may be experienced while taking anti-malarial medications. Please discuss any side effects or concerns with your doctor.

References

  1. Malaria, Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/malaria (accessed August 2018)
  2. NSW Health Malaria Factsheet (2016) http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/malaria.aspx (accessed September 2018)

AUS/VAC/0078/18 Date of Approval: November 2018