Planning to travel? Parents must protect themselves and their children against malaria


Parents (and their children) who travel to malarious countries to visit family are being warned that it is vital to ensure that they arrange to take malaria prophylaxis (preventive antibiotics).

Travellers to sub-Saharan Africa have the greatest risk of both getting malaria and dying from their infection. Nevertheless, all travellers to countries where malaria is present may be at risk for infection. People who live in malarious areas acquire immunity naturally to malaria (especially the most severe ‘falciparum’ form of the disease). This naturally acquired immunity protects millions of people, who are daily exposed to Plasmodium falciparum (and other forms of malaria) infection. This immunity develops over years of exposure, and while it never provides complete protection, it does reduce the risk, for people living in Africa, that malaria will cause severe disease, or even death.

It is for this reason that most malaria deaths in Africa - with its high levels of transmission - occur in young children, whereas in areas with lower levels of malaria transmission (such as in Eastern, Southern and Southeast Asia, the Arabian peninsula and in Central and South America) and in those with low immunity, all age groups are at risk.

However, for people who grew up in malarious areas and who then move to countries of the world where malaria is not found - such as Ireland - this immunity wears off with time. So, when they, and very especially their children (who may never have been exposed to malaria during their lives) travel to malarious parts of the world (for example to visit family), they and their children are at high risk of developing malaria, unless they take the appropriate malaria prophylaxis and that they ensure that they complete the prescribed course, as well as  taking steps to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

This is crucially important.  Taking the above measures will prevent malaria infection, and even death in your children. We occasionally hear of severe malaria in the children of parents whose country of origin is in a malarious region of the world, most especially in the parts of Africa that lie south of the Tropic of Cancer (but malaria is found - at lower incidence - even in the African countries bordering the Mediterranean). On investigation, it appears that parents returning to their country of origin in Africa (frequently to visit family) were unaware that immunity to malaria is developed over years of exposure, and wears off, the longer you have lived in Ireland.  Or that their children, especially those born in Ireland, who travel to Africa with their parents, will have no acquired immunity – at all - as they will never have been exposed to biting, malaria-infected mosquitoes.

So, if you are planning to travel, or returning home, to a part of the world where there is malaria, make sure to visit your doctor or travel physician as you are planning your trip, and ask about malaria prophylaxis; for you and your children.