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Friday, 22 December, 2000, 15:16 GMT
Travellers warned over malaria risk
Mosquitoes transmit malaria
Mosquitoes transmit malaria
The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning travellers to Africa to take extra precautions against malaria.

There have been reports of an increase of cases in holidaymakers returning home with the disease.

Cases have been reported in Spain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the UK, after travellers returned from African countries such as Senegal and Gambia.

Experts say there is particular need for vigilance between now and March, when there is set to be above-normal rainfall, with a corresponding increase in malaria transmission in the region up to May 2001.

Travellers are advised to seek advice on whether their destination has a high malaria risk, and which drugs they should take.

Prevention the key

The WHO recommends the drug mefloquine for travellers to most African countries, which should be started two to three weeks before travel.

For those who fail to start treatment in time, daily doxycycline can be an alternative. It can be started the day before travel.

Both drugs need to be taken during the stay and for four weeks after the return to cover the incubation period.

Dr David Heymann, WHO executive director for communicable diseases, said: "The risk of malaria is real. Each year thousands of travellers fall ill with malaria, and proportion of these die."

Dr Heymann is also programme manager for Roll Back Malaria, a world-wide campaign based at the WHO, which aims to halve the malaria burden by 2010.

He said: "Travellers often have the misconception that, if they travel to malaria areas for very short periods of time, they do not need to worry about malaria because there is little risk of infection.

"But, in reality, it is very possible to go on an outing for an hour - even for just a few minutes - and have that one mosquito bite that will inoculate the malaria parasites."

Protection

Travellers should also protect themselves against mosquito bites by using repellents in the daytime, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets when it is dark.

The symptoms of malaria, which can be mild to begin with, include fever, malaise and flu-like symptoms.


It is very possible to go on an outing for an hour - even for just a few minutes - and have that one mosquito bite that will inoculate the malaria parasites

Dr David Heymann
WHO

If those symptoms develop a week to two months after possible exposure, along with other symptoms including headaches, muscular aches, vomiting and diarrhoea, travellers are advised to seek medical attention and insist on a test for malaria.

It can be cured if treated immediately. If it is left untreated, people can fall into a coma and die.

The WHO estimates one million people die, primarily African children, from malaria each year, and there are an estimated 300 million cases in over 100 countries annually.

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