Malaria is a serious and sometimes life-threatening infection spread through the bite of mosquitoes in many tropical and sub-tropical countries. Malaria can be prevented by avoiding mosquito bites and taking certain medications. People planning to visit malaria-affected countries should get advice from their GP or a travel clinic 4-6 weeks before they leave.
Malaria is spread by mosquitos infected with microscopic malaria parasites. Malaria is caused by 5 possible parasites, but infection with one particular parasite (the Plasmodium falciparum parasite) can be especially dangerous.
Symptoms of malaria include:
In severe cases symptoms can include:
The infection is sometimes fatal.
Malaria symptoms usually develop 9-14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
Occasionally symptoms develop weeks or months later. Some types of malaria can re-occur months or years after exposure.
Malaria is spread when people are bitten by an Anopheles mosquito that is infected with the malaria parasite.
The malaria parasites live inside the gut and salivary glands of an infected mosquito. When a person is bitten by an infected mosquito, the parasites are injected into the person's blood. The parasites then infect the liver and blood cells. When a mosquito bites a person with malaria, the mosquito may become infected and can then spread the disease to other humans.
In rare cases, malaria can also be spread from person to person through blood transfusion, sharing injecting equipment, and from mother to foetus.
Malaria is present in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Western Pacific. People who travel to these areas are at risk of getting malaria.
See the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for a map showing the risk of malaria transmission in different countries.
The risk is usually higher in rural areas than in cities. Those at increased risk include:
People going overseas can avoid getting malaria by protecting against mosquito bites and taking preventive antimalarial medicines.
If you are travelling to an area that has malaria, visit a GP or travel clinic 4-6 weeks before you go for specific advice about avoiding malaria based on your itinerary and medical history.
Depending on the risk of malaria in the areas you are visiting, you may be advised to take medicines to prevent malaria:
To protect against mosquito bites and reduce the risk of diseases they transmit:
In addition to the general protection measures above, overseas travellers should also:
For more detailed information on reducing the risk of mosquito bites at home and while travelling see the Mosquitoes are a Health Hazard factsheet. This also includes more information on mosquito repellents.
See the Staying healthy when travelling overseas factsheet for further information on travel. The Smartraveller website also has health information for specific destinations.
Your doctor can take a blood sample and have it tested for malaria parasites. It is important that your doctor knows about your travel history and symptoms so the right blood test can be ordered.
If you become ill with symptoms of malaria while overseas or after travelling, visit a GP or hospital emergency department as soon as possible.
Tell the doctor where you have travelled, as this will help to make the right diagnosis.
If you are travelling to a remote area where you know it will be difficult to access medical care, speak to your doctor before you travel. You may need to be prepared to treat yourself for malaria if you get symptoms (as well as taking drugs to prevent malaria).
When laboratories confirm that someone has malaria, they notify their local public health unit. Public health units follow up each case to determine where the person acquired the infection.
For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.
If you have symptoms of malaria and you are concerned, speak to your doctor right away, or in an emergency call 000. For health advice you can call also Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for free 24-hour health advice or speak to your local pharmacist.