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Where is this disease found?

Malaria is endemic in nearly all tropical and subtropical areas, and in particular in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organisation, there are 300 to 400 million malaria sufferers throughout the world. Each year, malaria kills 2 to 3 million people. In many countries the number of cases has increased in recent years.

What are the symptoms of this disease?

Malaria can cause bouts of fever and chills. Sometimes the symptoms are much milder and the patient suffers from headaches and feels as if they have the flu. Falciparum malaria is the most severe form of the disease; it can progress rapidly and lead to death. There are also two forms of tertian malaria. Another type is known as quartan malaria, also known as “fourth day fever”. Several medications (prophylaxis) are available to prevent malaria in travellers to tropical malaria endemic countries. These drugs make the symptoms much milder, should the person taking the medication still contract the disease. Tertian malaria can cause fever and chills for many months, or even years, after infection.

How is this disease contracted?

Malaria is transferred by female Anopheles mosquitoes. Pathogenic microorganisms are introduced into the human body by their bites. Parasites then grow in the liver and in the red blood cells. Female mosquitoes mainly bite between dusk and dawn.

Recommended preventative measures include:

  • using mosquito repellents, preferably containing DEET;
  • wearing clothing that covers the entire body;
  • sleeping under (impregnated) mosquito nets; and
  • taking anti-malaria tablets if advised to do so by a doctor specialised in tropical medicine. Such drugs can not guarantee prevention of the disease so protecting yourself from mosquito bites remains very important.

What action should you take?

If you suspect you may have the disease during your stay in a (sub) tropical country or on your return to the Netherlands you should contact a doctor or the local health clinic/hospital immediately. Ask for a blood test to determine whether there are malaria parasites present and begin treatment as soon as results confirm infection.

Be sure to tell your doctor that you have stayed in or visited a malaria risk area.