New figures from Public Health England (PHE) have been published today (25 April 2014) for World Malaria Day, which show an overall increase of 9% in imported malaria infections reported in the UK in 2013 (1,501) compared with 2012 (1,378).
Malaria can be a life threatening disease, which is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. 79% of malaria cases in 2013 (compared with 73% in 2012) were caused by the more severe Plasmodium falciparum. This high proportion of falciparum malaria reflects the fact that most malaria imported to the UK is acquired in Africa. After a rise in recent years the proportion due to vivax malaria has continued to fall back, with 179 cases reported in 2013, compared to 271 in 2012 and 416 in 2011. The highest proportion of cases, as in previous years, is in travellers who are non UK-born who have visited family in their country of origin.
Dr Jane Jones, head of the PHE’s Travel and Migrant Health Section, said:
The proportion of cases who have not taken appropriate antimalarials remains high. This implies that health messages about the importance of antimalarial prophylaxis are still not reaching groups who are at particular risk of acquiring malaria, predominantly those who are visiting family in their country of origin and particularly those of Black African ethnicity. It’s important to stress that any partial protection people may have gained from being brought up in a country where malaria is common is quickly lost when living in the UK.
Professor Peter Chiodini, head of the PHE’s Malaria Reference Laboratory, said:
World Malaria Day provides a timely reminder to all travellers going to a country where malaria is present to seek pre-travel advice about the appropriate measures to take to protect themselves, including preventive medicines. If you have any symptoms (usually flu-like or a fever), either while you are away or for up to a year after you return home, you must seek urgent medical help; malaria may cause severe complications and can be fatal.
Dr Dipti Patel, Joint Director of the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), said:
Travellers to countries where malaria is present should seek advice from their general practice, a specialist travel clinic or pharmacy about malaria prevention at least 6 to 8 weeks before they travel, but even if travelling at short notice it is still possible to get protected. Travellers are also reminded to avoid mosquito bites by using bed nets, cover-up clothing and insect repellents, particularly for children. Information on insect bite avoidance and malaria prevention for specific countries is available on the NaTHNaC website.
Malaria, an almost completely preventable but potentially fatal disease, remains an important issue for UK travellers. There is continuing evidence that those of African or Asian ethnicity who are non-UK born and going to visit family in their country of origin are at increased risk of malaria. PHE recommends that those providing advice should engage with these population groups wherever possible, including using potential opportunities to talk about future travel plans outside a specific travel health consultation, such as during new patient checks or childhood immunisation appointments.
Notes to editors
- A malaria leaflet for travellers is available.
- View the latest health protection report.
- The Malaria Reference Laboratory provides an integrated service for public health in relation to malaria. It combines reference and diagnostic parasitology of malaria with surveillance of all imported malaria reported in the UK, analysing the results and using these, together with wide consultation to develop national policy on prevention of imported malaria, which it then disseminates widely.
- National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) is commissioned by the Public Health England and hosted by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It works in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, the Department of Health and Public Health England to achieve its objective of improving standards in travel medicine and advice.
- Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health.
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