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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 01:44 GMT 02:44 UK
The anti-malaria drug dilemma
A mosquitoes
Malaria is spread by the mosquito
By BBC Health Correspondent Karen Allen

The licensing in the UK of the new anti-malaria drug Malarone is being cautiously welcomed by tropical disease experts.

Its manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline, are marketing it as a drug that is 97% effective in preventing the most common form of the disease.

Marketing for Malarone is being aimed particularly at tourists from the developed world to malaria-endemic countries.

Preventive drug treatments are unsuitable for long-term use in these countries but Malarone will be available in some as a treatment for people who have already caught the disease.

Lariam
The malaria drug scare may have endangered lives
But it is likely to cost considerably more than Lariam, the controversial anti-malarial treatment produced by their rivals Roche, which has been the focus of numerous health scares because of its potential side effects.

The past two decades has seen an huge increase in the number of cases of malaria in the UK.

No fewer than 2,000 people return home with the disease each year as African holiday resorts in malaria endemic areas like Kenya and Gambia grow in popularity.

Growing drug resistance and changing climates means that older drugs like chloroquine have become less effective and so new generations of drugs like Lariam have been recommended as frontline preventative treatment.

Keith Zabell developed malaria after a trip to the Gambia. He developed the classical flu like symptoms withing a week of his return and was in hospital for four days.

He admits that not only did he fail to take the recommended treatment (Lariam) opting for drugs which were less effective, but he failed to continue taking the tablets on his return to Britain.

He said: "In the past I had been taking Lariam but was worried about side-effects, so this time I decided not to take it and I resorted to nivaquin and paludrine.....being blase about the situation I stopped taking the tablets when I got home"

"The whole thing hasn't made me think twice about going to Africa but I would take a lot more precautions including things like insect sprays which I had never used before"

Caution

However growing public awareness about the possibility of severe side effects in a minority of patients taking Larium appears to have made it more difficult to get the message across that contracting malaria could be worse than the side effects of any drug.

Although Malarone would appear to offer a solution - so far few side effects have been reported - tropical disease experts are cautioning against hailing this as a breakthrough.

As one pointed out, a drug is only as good as the person taking it - if they lapse in their treatment (especially in the crucial days when they return home) they still run the risk of getting infected.

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See also:

01 Feb 01 | Health
Mouthwash could tackle malaria
31 Dec 00 | Health
Scientists 'block malaria'
31 May 00 | Health
Holidaymakers 'risk disease'
24 Feb 00 | Health
Malaria secrets uncovered
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