Foreign travellers ill-prepared for malaria

January 15, 1999

Travellers should be encouraged to take precautions against malaria, particularly drug-resistant varieties, said a leading specialist from Newcastle University, writes Olga Wojtas.

Edmund Ong, head of Newcastle's department of tropical medicine, has called for a public awareness campaign about the dangers of contracting malaria after his investigation of almost 100 cases at a local hospital.

Dr Ong's research found that many people of non-Caucasian origin who had settled in the United Kingdom took no precautions against the disease when travelling to areas where malaria is prevalent. Most British Caucasian patients had taken preventive drugs but still contracted malaria.

Each year, there are about seven deaths in the United Kingdom from about 2,000 cases of imported malaria. The disease is a huge public-health problem worldwide. There are more than 100 million new cases annually, causing one to two million deaths.

Despite recent adverse publicity about possible side-effects of the anti malaria drug Mefloquine, Dr Ong argues that it should still be recommended for people travelling to areas where there is a high risk of encountering malaria that is resistant to the more commonly used drug, Chloroquine.

He found that 78 per cent of British Caucasians contracted the disease despite having taken anti-malaria drugs. Only one in six of patients of other ethnic origins had taken anti-malaria drugs even though all had visited relatives in malarial areas.

Fewer than one in six of the patients who contracted malaria in sub-Saharan Africa took Mefloquine as a preventive measure, while 23 per cent took Chloroquine or Proguanil.

Dr Ong said: "People of ethnic origin visiting relatives abroad must be strongly encouraged to take appropriate prophylaxis. It is also important that all travellers and GPs are aware of the hazards of drug-resistant strains of malaria so that the most appropriate preventive treatment can be prescribed."

This research appeared in the December issue of The Journal of Travel Medicine, volume 5, number 4.

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