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The BBC's Andrew Gilligan reports
"There are already 16 confirmed or probable malaria cases"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Malaria strikes British troops
Paras in Sierra Leone
Paras did not have time to take anti-malarial drugs
British forces in Sierra Leone have been hit by illness because they were not given malaria pills early enough.

At least 16 paratroopers and RAF personnel who went to the war-torn African country appear to have contracted malaria.

Ministry of Defence guidelines recommend people travelling to high risk malaria areas start taking anti-malarial drugs up to three weeks before departure.

It is something we were prepared for

MoD spokesman

But an MoD spokesman said the troops sent to Sierra Leone were only given two days' notice.

Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Paul Keetch said measures should be put in place to ensure it does not happen again.

"Putting our troops at risk of disease will not make a rapid reaction effective," he said.

High risk

The MoD spokesman said the affected troops were part of the "spearhead battalion" - on standby to be sent anywhere in the world at a moment's notice.

"You can't have them permanently on a course of anti-malarial drugs, it is not good for the system," he told BBC News Online.

Sierra Leone is a high risk area for malaria and the disease-carrying mosquitoes are already resistant to the regular Chloroquine drug treatment.

Aircrew were not allowed to take full-strength tablets

British soldiers were given Mefloquine tablets which offer 90% to 95% protection, but have more side effects.

Military doctors have confirmed 13 cases of malaria, with three suspected cases.

Six are air crew who were not allowed to take the tablets because of side effects such as dizziness.

The MoD spokesman said: "Even with the stronger course of tablets you would expect to find ten per cent to be at risk if bitten by the mosquito.

"With just 13 confirmed cases out of 4,500, the treatment has been pretty effective. It is something we were prepared for."

More cases expected

All troops returning from Sierra Leone have been warned to look out for "flu-like" symptoms.

Most people survive a bout of malaria after a 10-20 day illness of high fever and chills.

The most serious forms of the disease can affect the kidneys and brain and can cause anaemia, coma and death.

The first battalion of the Parachute Regiment, which arrived in Sierra Leone in May, has already withdrawn from the country.

Marines from 42 Commando, who had a bit more time to start taking the medicine before they arrived in Sierra Leone, are expected to leave next week.

Medical experts believe the number of troops affected by the disease could rise as the malaria symptoms take time to develop.

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See also:

05 Jun 00 | Africa
Life is short in Sierra Leone
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
31 May 00 | UK
Bringing malaria home
21 Apr 00 | Health
Malaria vaccine 'closer'
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