Malaria is a tropical infectious disease, which is caused by certain parasites that are transmitted to humans through infected mosquitoes. There are five different types of malaria, of which P. falciparum is the most dangerous. An untreated infection with this type of malaria may be fatal within a few days to a few weeks. The other types are less dangerous, but can cause fevers, even months to years after having been infected.
Malaria occurs in a number of (sub) tropical regions. These regions are:
- Western, Central and East Africa,
- Parts of Southern Africa
- Central and South America
The risk of Malaria infection in areas that are 2500 meters above sea level (or higher) is generally rare.
What are the risks and for whom?
Anyone who travels in risk areas can contract malaria – the longer the stay (or journey), the higher the risk. Young children, pregnant women, people who’ve had their spleen removed or who suffer from a spleen-related illness and people infected with HIV have an increased chance of becoming seriously ill from malaria. If you have a reduced immune system due to illness or medication, you may run a greater risk of serious malaria as well. If you suffered from malaria before, this does not mean you cannot be infected again – a new bite by an infected mosquito can again cause malaria.
How to protect yourself from Malaria?
There is no vaccine against malaria. Effective protection against malaria comprises of a combination of two measures: avoiding mosquito bites and taking antimalarial tablets. If the risk of infection is very low, you may be advised to take anti-mosquito measures only. However, in most risk areas it is strongly recommended to also take anti-malaria tablets.
You can protect yourself against mosquito bites by taking the following measures:
- Always wear covering clothes: long sleeves, long trousers, shoes and socks.
- Apply appropriate insect repellent (that contains DEET) on exposed skin.
- Ensure that your room is free of mosquitoes and/or sleep under a proper mosquito net. Also, sleeping in an enclosed air-conditioned room is a good protection against mosquito bites.
Antimalarial measures depend on your destination and on the length of your journey. This also applies to the type of malaria tablets you will need. Besides this, individual factors such as your health must be taken into account. Our nursing staff will gladly provide you with personal advice. Make an appointment.
Malaria tablets delivered to your home
The KLM Health Services Travel Clinic has its own pharmacy. This means that after your consultation, we can deliver your medication to your home (provided that you live in the Netherlands). Medicines can also be sent to your work address, saving you a trip to the pharmacy. Of course, you can also pick up your medication personally. Our pharmacy is located in our Schiphol Airport branch.
If you are infected with malaria, it will take a while before symptoms arise. The incubation period – the time between the actual bite and the first symptoms – is often one to several weeks in case of the falciparum malaria. Other types of malaria may manifest itself after a longer incubation period – it is possible that symptoms arise weeks or even months after you have returned from your journey. Early symptoms of malaria include fever, shivering, fatigue, headaches and sore muscles and joints. The fever does not always cause shivering or chills. Symptoms are often described as ‘flu-like’ and can be accompanied by diarrhoea, vomiting and coughing with shortness of breath.
If you suffer from fevers or flu-like symptoms after your stay in a malaria risk area, it is very important to keep in mind the possibility of malaria and to immediately contact a doctor. Tell your GP that you recently visited a malaria area. The disease is treatable with antimalarial medication, but it is important to start treatment as soon as possible. Treatment often requires a brief hospital admission.
- If you suspect that you have malaria, you need to get your blood tested for malaria parasites as quickly as possible. A trusted doctor or hospital should carry out the blood tests so that proper treatment can start immediately.
- If you cannot reach a doctor or a hospital within 24 hours but the flu-like symptoms continue over 24 hours you can take emergency treatment following prescription. Our nursing staff will prescribe such emergency treatment if you reside in malaria areas for a longer period of time and if medical facilities are scarce and/or of low quality. In order to make sure your symptoms are not the result of another disease and – in case of malaria – to find out whether the treatment has been sufficient, we strongly advise you to still consult a (local) doctor after your emergency treatment.
Treatment at home
- It is possible that you experience flu-like symptoms – that may or may not be accompanied by fever – even several months after you have returned to the Netherlands. This can be the case after of during your preventative malaria treatment (prophylaxis) and the symptoms may indicate incipient falciparum. In this case, consult your GP and mention that you recently visited a malaria area.
- Tertian fever – the other major type of malaria – can cause so-called paroxysms months to four years after completion of preventative malaria treatment (prophylaxis). These paroxysms comprise of fever and severe chills and typically recur every 48 hours. This type of malaria is sometimes called benign, since it is rarely fatal.
Personal advice? Make an appointment!
If you like to get personal advice from a KLM Health Services nurse in one of our Travel Clinics, simply make an appointment online. An overview of our branches can be found here. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact us via 0900 109 109 6 (only reachable from within the Netherlands).