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Gap Year Travellers Should Take Malaria Seriously

Malaria is a serious, sometimes fatal, tropical disease spread by mosquito bites

Date added: Sunday 1st September 2013

Malaria is a serious, sometimes fatal, tropical disease spread by mosquito bites.  Anyone on a gap year going to a malaria region is at risk.  Each year around 1,500 travellers are diagnosed with malaria and between five and fifteen of them die of malaria.  Some of these were gap year travellers who for whatever reason did not think it would happen to them.

Malaria MapWhere is malaria found?

Malaria is found in over 100 countries covering much of Africa, Asia, Central and South America including the Dominican Republic and parts of the Middle East, Far East and some Pacific Ocean Islands.  These include many countries that attract offer a wide range of gap year programs.  When planning where to travel on your gap year make sure to find out if malaria occurs in the country(s) you plan to visit.

How can I catch malaria?

Malaria is caught through bites from infected mosquitoes.  These mosquitoes usually bite between dusk and dawn.  There are five different types of the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria.  All can result in a serious illness but the most dangerous is Falciparum malaria.

How can I prevent malaria?

Best follow the ABCD of malaria prevention:

Awareness of risk – findout if your trip will take you to a malaria risk area.  Visit  If it is in a malaria risk area then visit your GP or travel clinic well before you depart and straightaway if you travelling sooner.

Bites – Avoid them

  • Apply insect repellent frequently.  This should contain at least 20% DEET and preferably 30% DEET to give up to 6 hours of protection.  Anything above 50% DEET is a waste as natural sweat in the tropical climate will negate the extra strength.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.
  • If you are not in enclosed air conditioned accommodation then sleep under an intact mosquito net.  You can buy nets pre-dipped in insecticide.

Check – if you need malaria prevention tablets.  If you do make sure you take the correct tablets as recommended (daily or weekly and finish the course. You can expect to start taking the tablets before you depart and to continue for some time after your return.

Diagnosis- see a doctor immediately if you have any symptoms (often fever) either while abroad or for a year after your return.  Tell the doctor you have been in a malaria risk area.

What are the symptoms?

  • Fever (high temperature), muscle aches, chills and sweating.
  • Cough, headache and diarrhoea.
  • Seizures (fits) and loss of consciousness with severe illness from Falciparum malaria.

Malaria symptoms can appear as soon as 7 days after arriving in a risk area and as long as a year (sometimes longer) after being bitten.

Malaria is a medical emergency.  If you have any symptoms (usually fever) either while you are away or once you return home don’t hesitate – you must get immediate medical help.  This is important, even if you took the right malaria tablets, tried to avoid getting bitten and have been back in the UK for a while.

An urgent malaria test must be arranged by your GP, Accident & Emergency doctor or Tropical/Infectious Diseases clinic.  The blood test can be checked and if any malaria parasites are found immediate treatment can start the same day.

The Risk

Tens of thousands of gap year participants have travelled to malaria affected regions, have taken the precautions and returned without catching malaria.  A small minority have taken all the precautions and still caught malaria – it happens.  You can greatly reduce the chance of catching malaria if:

  • You make yourself fully aware of the risk.
  • You visit your GP or travel clinic before departure and find out which malaria tablets are right for your destination.  You must then take the tablets as prescribed starting before you depart and continuing until the course ends after your return.
  • If you get a fever and are in or have been in a malaria risk area then assume it could be malaria rather than flu.  No one will think badly of you if it turns out to be flu.  Better to be safe.  So..
  • Seek help.  Don’t delay seeing a doctor or starting treatment.


Malaria can be treated especially if the correct treatment is given immediately.  It can be a serious illness with risk of disability and death so you will probably be admitted to hospital and given drugs directly into a vein via a drip.  The chances are that you will make a full recovery though it can take some time to get back to normal.


Reference: August 2010