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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
UK malaria deaths nearly double
image of mosquito
Travellers are ignoring malaria risk
Travellers' ignorance about the threat of malaria is to blame for a doubling of malaria deaths in the UK since 2002, say researchers.

There were nine deaths in 2002 and 16 deaths in 2003.

Cases of the most lethal form of malaria continued to rise, say Malaria Awareness Campaign experts.

They have warned thousands of people are putting their health at risk by failing to take proper medical advice before travelling to malaria zones.

Experts say the rise is due to people travelling abroad more frequently, and increasingly to more tropical places, with few seeking travel advice.

UK residents made nearly 60 million visits abroad in 2002, which is triple the rate seen in 1981.

A survey between 2002 and 2003 of nearly 5,500 airport passengers found about 50% had failed to seek appropriate travel health advice.

We are very concerned because these are people who shouldn't be dying
Professor Peter Chiodini, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

A quarter of those visiting a high-risk malaria area were unaware of the risk.

Figures show the most lethal form of malaria - Plasmodium falciparum - is accounting for a greater proportion of the total number of cases imported into the UK.

Last year, it accounted for 78% of the total, up from 75.5% in 2002.

Professor Peter Chiodini from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said of the 16 people who died from malaria in 2003, nine had not taken tablets to protect against malaria. Another two probably did not, he said.

Unnecessary risk

"We are very concerned because these are people who shouldn't be dying.

"If they take proper precautions against malaria their chances of getting the infection are very low and if they do get it and get treated early they are unlikely to die," he said.

"We have got to educate the travelling public. It's not treatment failure its prevention failure," he said.

Having an 'It won't happen to me' mentality
Concerns about side effects of malaria tablets
Mistaken belief that immunity comes with past exposure
Misconception that mosquitoes only bite in swampy areas

Dr George Kassianos, GP and spokesman on vaccinations for the Royal College of General Practitioners, said many people were putting themselves at risk by travelling to malarious areas without taking preventive tablets and precautions against mosquito bites.

"You have to do both. And even then you have to remain vigilant. Unless you comply you stand a good chance to actually have a problem."

He said some people do not bother to get travel advice at all and others forget to continue to take the full course of tablets when they return from holiday, leaving them unprotected.

Others may be receiving the wrong tablets for the area they are travelling to.

Image of Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell is believed to have died from malaria in 1658

"It's a common problem because people do not have time to go to the doctors or travel centre and they just go to the chemist and pick up tablets.

"Visit your travel clinic and get current advise as to what you should be taking for the country you are going to because what you did a year ago may not be right today," he said.

Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes said the majority people going away from UK airports last year said they didn't do anything to prevent malaria.

"That's suicidal ignorance," he said.

08 Feb 03  |  Medical notes

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