Malaria is a nasty tropical disease caused by Plasmodium parasites and spread to humans through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It not quickly diagnosed and treated, it can prove fatal; in fact, it causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.
Since it poses such a threat to travellers worldwide, it’s important to arm yourself with the information you need to take sensible precautions when venturing overseas. Here are some of the top questions about malaria you need to be answered:
Can malaria be cured?
Yes. With the right course of treatment, all Plasmodium parasites can be eradicated. That said, getting the treatment wrong can leave parasites behind and allow for the possibility of renewed illness down the line. The safest way is to take the necessary precautions when travelling to minimise the chances of you contracting malaria in the first place!
Two types of Plasmodium parasite (Plasmodium vivax and P. ovale) affect the liver and can lurk there for a long time before reactivating to cause more harm. P. malariae, another Plasmodium parasite, can remain in the bloodstream for a very long time. As such, getting rid of malaria entirely is all about getting the diagnosis right.
If you want to understand the basics of how to prevent malaria and the treatments available, you can read our What is Malaria? guide.
How long will it take to recover from malaria?
This depends on a large number of factors, including the rate and kind of treatment, the type of malaria (different malaria types produce infections with different levels of pace and intensity), and the strength of the sufferer’s immune system (children and pregnant women have weaker immune systems, and health conditions can cause even greater levels of weakness).
In typical cases, the proper treatment will produce meaningful signs of improvement within a few days, and complete recovery within a couple of weeks. Relapses are possible, as are complications, but a return to full health should be achievable.
Are malaria tablets effective?
Yes; anti-malarial medication, often issued in the form of malaria tablets, is a very effective preventative measure if taken under the guidance of a qualified medical professional, although it is important to note that no anti-malarial treatment is 100% effective.
Some common preventative pills you may want to take:
It is important to note that bite prevention methods are also important when you are travelling.
Are all malaria tablets the same?
No; there are various types of anti-malarial medication. They differ in effectiveness (due to resistance dependent on location), recommended dosage, possible side effects, and cost.
You can find out more about the different anti-malarial medications on our Malaria Prevention page.
Do I need malaria tablets for my trip overseas?
That depends on your destination. Malaria is mostly a problem in warmer climates, chiefly tropical and subtropical countries, as the Anopheles mosquito prefers high temperatures, and the Plasmodium parasites need warmth to become mature enough to survive being transferred to humans.
Overall, roughly 50% of the global population is under threat from malaria, across more than 100 countries and territories including much of Africa and South Asia and chunks of South and Central America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Oceania.
It isn’t a threat everywhere warm, though, as it has been eliminated in some formerly-affected places, and the Anopheles mosquitoes needed to pass it on aren’t present in others. To find out if the destination you have in mind for a trip will warrant malaria tablets, consult a medical professional, or check NHS Fit for Travel for up to date advice.
Is there a vaccination for malaria?
At the moment, there is just one. It’s called ‘RTS, S’, and it trains the immune system to attack the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria. It is the only approved vaccine, known by the brand name Mosquirix. In October 2021, the WHO for the first time recommended the large-scale use of a malaria vaccines for children living in areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission. Four injections are required for full protection.
There are other malaria vaccines currently in development. The most effective vaccine currently in development appears to be R21/Matrix-M which currently shows 77% efficacy.
Is malaria contagious?
No, malaria is not contagious. The infection resides in the bloodstream, so physical contact will not pass it on. The only way to contract malaria from another person is to receive blood or an organ from a malaria sufferer.
Can you get malaria twice?
Yes; in fact, many people contract it many more times than that. Recovering from malaria does not grant someone immunity to it. Preventative measures must be taken even among those who have suffered from malaria on multiple occasions.
Can I donate blood if I've had malaria?
Yes, but with certain conditions. Anyone who has suffered from malaria must refrain from giving blood until they have been completely recovered and required no antimalarial medication for 3 full years, and cannot give blood for 6 months after visiting an area with malaria risk. In addition, it’s vitally important to inform the staff of your medical history.
You can find out more about giving blood from the NHS Blood & Transplant service.
Where did malaria originate?
Human malaria is thought to have evolved in Africa alongside other forms of malaria. It’s suspected that the parasites reached humans through contact with gorillas and chimpanzees.
Malaria is a stubborn and potentially-deadly infection, and it needs to be taken seriously. Make sure to consult a medical professional to get the preventative medication you need when heading to an at-risk country.