Posted on April 24, 2018

To highlight World Malaria Day and ahead of the summer vacation season, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is advising residents who are planning travel to known malaria-endemic regions of the world to take necessary precautions.

Malaria is a serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes; if left undiagnosed and untreated, it can be fatal. Dr. Hussam Al Soub, Senior Consultant at HMC’s Infectious Diseases Unit said while several malaria vaccines are under development, none are currently available. Prevention is, therefore, the best protection against malaria and is based on two complementary methods: chemoprophylaxis, or the use of medication to prevent disease, and protection against mosquito bites. He recommends the use of mosquito-repellent creams and mosquito nets (particularly insecticide-treated nets), and advises travelers to wear long sleeves and long pants to cover their skin. He also recommends avoiding going outside at night when mosquitos usually bite.

“Qatar is free from locally acquired malaria. All cases we have in the country are imported, meaning they have been acquired abroad. For those planning to travel to countries that have known malaria cases, it is very important to take preventive measures, including avoiding mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering the arms and legs, and using a mosquito net. It is also important to consult with an experienced healthcare professional who can advise if malaria prevention tablets are needed,” cautioned Dr. Al Soub.

International travelers could be at risk of malaria infection in 91 countries around the world, mainly in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 216 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2016, with around 445,000 deaths attributed to the disease, mainly in children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. Last year, 128 patients infected with malaria were admitted to HMC for treatment. According to Dr. Al Soub, those most at risk of serious illness associated with contracting the disease are individuals who have little or no immunity to malaria, such as young children and pregnant women or travelers coming from areas with no malaria.

“People who have resided in Qatar and other malaria-free countries for a long time may have lowered immunity to malaria and are thus vulnerable to serious illness. People planning to travel to endemic areas should consult their doctor or visit a clinic that offers anti-malarial medication, such as the Travel Clinic at HMC’s Communicable Disease Center. It is important to speak with a travel specialist to ensure you take the right anti-malarial tablets and the right dose. It is also essential to finish the full course of medication,” said Dr. Al Soub.

People infected with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like illness at first. Left untreated, the disease can lead to severe complications and, in some cases, death. Malaria symptoms appear after a period of seven days or longer after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Fever occurring in a traveler within three months of possible exposure to malaria is a medical emergency that should be investigated immediately.

“The most common symptoms of malaria are a high temperature (fever) and a flu-like illness. The symptoms of malaria can occur even up to a year after traveling in an area in which malaria is present. Prompt treatment for malaria is essential, as without treatment it can be fatal. If you think you may have malaria, you should seek immediate medical advice. If you have traveled to an area in which there is malaria, you may be at risk of this disease, even if you took anti-malarial medication. If your doctor suspects malaria, he or she will perform a blood test that will be examined for the presence of the malaria parasite,” said Dr. Al Soub.

Last year, the CDC officially opened its Travel Clinic. Offering travelers counseling, vaccinations, and other preventative measures, the clinic also provides certificates of vaccination (required for travel to some countries) and assessments for travelers returning from abroad with travel-related infections.