International travel and health

Prevention and treatment of falciparum malaria

In recent weeks, several European countries have reported unusually high numbers of cases of P. falciparum infection in holiday travellers to the Gambia (West Africa) who had not taken adequate protective measures against malaria.

Plasmodium falciparum malaria, the most serious form of malaria, is a life-threatening disease. More than 90 countries are at risk of the disease, including some destinations for which travel agents offer last-minute holidays. Potential travellers should enquire whether malaria transmission occurs in these destinations and, if so, ensure that sufficient time is taken for pre-travel advice and the necessary health precautions before departure. Travellers can reduce the risks of falciparum malaria by using adequate preventive measures. These include using protection against the bites of mosquitoes between dusk and dawn and chemoprophylaxis where indicated. Immediate medical attention for diagnosis and treatment should be sought if fever develops at any time between 7 days after entering an area where there is a risk of falciparum malaria and 3 months (or, rarely, later) after departure from such areas. Physicians can reduce the risk of death by routinely asking about recent travel when evaluating patients with febrile illnesses.

Updated information is available in the WHO's WER 19 December issue, WHO's Guidelines for the treatment of malaria and WHO's 28 January 2009 updated factsheet on malaria