Visitors to malaria hotspots must take necessary medication warns HPSC
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) today (Thursday) warned that people travelling to areas where malaria is common must take necessary medication, following a record number of cases of the disease in Ireland.
There has been a progressive increase in the numbers of malaria cases in Ireland over the last few years, and the latest figures show that 96 cases were notified in Ireland in 2006, more than double what was recorded the previous year, says HPSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Paul McKeown.
"Malaria is a serious tropical disease caused by parasites that are spread by biting mosquitoes. All cases of malaria in Ireland are imported. The disease is contracted in countries where malaria is endemic or found naturally. 75% of cases in 2006 contracted the disease in Africa but fortunately there were no deaths due to malaria. Worryingly however, more than a quarter of cases were in children.
"Most people infected were visiting family members in countries where malaria is common. However, a number of cases were also seen in holidaymakers, business travellers and people arriving in Ireland for the first time. It is particularly worrying that over 95% of those who acquired malaria either did not take the necessary protective antibiotics or did not finish the course.
"People who live in areas where malaria is common often have some immunity to the disease but this quickly wears off when they move to a non-malarious country like Ireland. Unfortunately, parents returning to malarious countries to visit relatives often don't realise that their Irish born children will have no immunity at all to the disease. There is a worrying rise in the numbers of such childhood cases following travel, particularly to West Africa.
"The best defence against malaria is to avoid getting bitten by infected mosquitoes by staying away from areas where mosquitoes gather and by protecting your skin using clothing, anti-mosquito sprays and mosquito nets. However, all travellers to areas where malaria is common should check with their GP about the need to take precautions. It is crucial to take the preventive prescribed antibiotics. This is especially important for children. It is also vital to take the antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your doctor as they may need to be taken for a number of weeks after returning from the trip," he said.
Further information on protection from biting mosquitoes and malaria can be found at http://www.hpsc.ie/hpsc/A-Z/Vectorborne/Malaria/.
A map showing global malaria distribution can be found at http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/bigmap.htm