What are malaria tablets and how can they help me?
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes that have been infected by a parasite, and is generally found in tropical or subtropical countries. The symptoms of malaria are unpleasant and can include headaches, sweating, chills, vomiting, and diarrhoea. If untreated, malaria can be deadly. In 2018 1689 people in the UK came back from abroad with malaria and 6 people died.
The good news is that taking malaria tablets will go a long way in protecting you against the disease. If you're going to travel abroad, you should check Fit for Travel if you live in Scotland or the Travel Health Pro website if you live elsewhere in the UK to find out if you are going into a malaria area. If you are, it is very important that you take malaria tablets before, during and after your trip.
What are malaria tablets?
Malaria tablets protect against malaria by helping the body fight off the parasite which causes the disease. This parasite is carried by mosquitoes, and enters your body when an infected mosquito bites you.
Malaria tablets provide protection against malaria, but they must be taken correctly and used in combination with other measures to avoid mosquito bites. If not taken as prescribed, their effectiveness is greatly reduced.
Most malaria tablets are prescription-only, and if you want to save the hassle of visiting a GP you can order them through our online doctor service. We offer two types of malaria tablets:
Chloroquine, proguanil and chloroquine with proguanil are available to purchase from pharmacies without a prescription.
For more information, see what is the difference between malaria tablets?
Common questions about malaria and malaria tablets
There are a few misconceptions about malaria and malaria tablets. Here are the top questions patients ask us:
“Will I know if I’ve been bitten by a mosquito carrying malaria?”
No, you won’t. Initially you can’t tell the difference between an ordinary mosquito bite and a malaria-mosquito bite. The inflammation (red, raised bumps) may not become apparent until a couple of days after being bitten. Usually symptoms of malaria take about a week to develop, so many people won’t show any symptoms until they’re back home.
“How many bites from an infected mosquito will it take to get malaria?”
Just one. The parasite, Plasmodium, is transmitted when an infected mosquito bites. Not all mosquitoes carry malaria and not all bites will give you malaria. But if the mosquito carries Plasmodium, one bite is all it can take.
“Is DEET enough to avoid malaria?”
Not on its own in a high-risk malarial area, but it is still important. The insect repellent DEET is very good at keeping mosquitoes away, but there’s a significant risk that you’ll miss a bit of skin when you apply it. Even the strongest DEET can wash off with sweat or rain. However, it’s essential to combine both DEET and malaria tablets in a ‘belt and braces’ approach. You should also sleep under mosquito nets (ideally treated with insecticide) and wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
“How much protection will I get from malaria tablets?”
If used correctly in combination with other measures to prevent mosquito bites, malaria tablets are around 90-100% effective. But if you don’t take them regularly they won’t work. As well as taking tablets during your trip, you should take them before you go and after you come back. The parasite lives in your blood and your liver for a while after you’ve been bitten, so you need to take the tablets when you’re back to eliminate the risk of developing malaria. In our travel clinic we take into account the number of tablets you need to take both before and after you travel.
“Does vitamin B help prevent malaria?”
No. Some people believe vitamin B can help fend off mosquitoes, but this is a myth.
“How many countries have malaria?”
Over 100. Before you travel you should check out precisely where you are staying, to see if it is an area at risk (click here for a detailed list of malaria risk zones).
It’s important to check the specific area you’re travelling to as the risks won’t necessarily be the same throughout the county. For example, Peru has high risk of malaria in the Amazon areas, but low or no risk on the southern coast. You should investigate the risks of specific areas, not just the country as a whole.
“Do I need to take malaria tablets if I originally come from a malarial country?”
Yes. Most people from the UK who get malaria have caught it whilst visiting friends and relatives abroad. People living in the UK, who originally came from malaria countries, have no immunity to the disease (they tend to lose their immunity around 6 months after leaving a malaria area). That means they have the same chance of getting malaria as someone who has never been to a country with malaria before. In fact, this group is statistically the most likely to come back with malaria.
How can I get malaria tablets?
Malaria tablets are prescription-only, so you can book an appointment with your GP to get them, or order through our online doctor service. Your GP, or one of our NHS experienced clinicians if you choose to order from them, will advise you on which tablets to take and how many you will need.
I'm going to a country where Malarone is not recommended. Can I still take it?
No. If Malarone isn't recommended for where you’re going, you shouldn't take it. It won't give you the protection you need.
If it’s suggested as an alternative or second choice for your destination, it's fine to take Malarone.
Check which tablets are recommended for your destination at Fit For Travel.
Which malaria tablets do I have to take?
You should choose your malaria-prevention tablets based on their:
Effectiveness in the place you are going to
- Suitability for you, based on your health and any medical conditions
- Side effects
- Frequency of dose, depending on how often you want to take your tablets (every day or once a week, for example)
- How soon you're travelling
Different malaria tablets are recommended for different parts of the world. For most places, more than one treatment is appropriate, so you could have a choice of options. You can check which tablets you need on the NHS Fit for Travel website.
How many tablets will I be prescribed?
If you order a prescription of malaria tablets that matches the length of your trip, we make sure the pack also includes the tablets you need to take before and after your trip as well. This means you'll be properly protected whichever type of tablet you choose for your destination.
You don't need to do any calculations. Just select a pack for the number of days you're away—this will also include the tablets you need to take before and after your trip.