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    How to prevent catching malaria

    On this page
    1. How do you catch malaria?
    2. Who is most at risk of catching malaria?
    3. How can malaria be prevented?
    4. The signs and symptoms of malaria
    5. What to do if you think you have malaria
    6. Can you catch malaria twice?
    7. Malaria treatment
    8. Conclusion

    Reviewed by our clinical team

    How to prevent catching malaria

    Malaria is a serious and sometimes life-threatening disease spread by mosquitoes. Usually present in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central and South America, it’s thought that around 600,000 people die every year due to malaria exposure.

    Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce your risk of exposure and avoid catching malaria. In this article, we’ll look at the signs and symptoms of malaria, how it’s spread, and the steps you can take to prevent catching it. 

    How do you catch malaria?

    Malaria is spread by the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, which transfer parasites from person to person. When a mosquito bites an infected person, the parasites enter the mosquito's bloodstream and develop over the course of several days. The mosquito can then infect other people when it bites them.

    It's important to know that malaria can’t be spread from person to person through casual contact, such as touching, kissing, or sharing food or drinks. However, it can be spread through blood transfusions or sharing needles with someone who is infected. Pregnant women can also pass the disease on to their babies. 

    Who is most at risk of catching malaria?

    While anyone can contract malaria, some people are more at risk than others. Those most at risk include:

    • People living in or travelling to areas where malaria is prevalent, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and parts of Central and South America.
    • Young children
    • Pregnant women
    • People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy
    • People without a spleen
    • People over 65
    • Travellers who do not take appropriate preventative measures, such as antimalarial medication or using mosquito repellent and mosquito nets

    It's important to take appropriate measures to prevent malaria if you fall into any of these categories, or if you’re travelling to an area where malaria is prevalent.

    How can malaria be prevented?

    Although not all mosquitoes carry the malaria parasite, any mosquito could be infected. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure and protect yourself against malaria.

    Take anti-malaria tablets

    If you are travelling to an area where malaria is prevalent, it's important to take the right antimalarial medication. The most common anti-malaria tablets include atovaquone-proguanil (or its branded version Malarone) and doxycycline. Your doctor can advise you on the best type of malaria medication for your trip, and may recommend that you start taking the medication several weeks before you travel.

    Sleep in well-screened areas

    Mosquitoes are most active at night, so it's important to sleep in areas that are well-screened and air-conditioned. If you are staying in a room without screens, consider using a mosquito net over your bed.

    Use mosquito nets

    Mosquito nets can provide an additional layer of protection against mosquito bites. Make sure the net is properly secured around your bed and tucked in under the mattress.

    Use insect repellent

    Insect repellent can help keep mosquitoes away. Look for a repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus, and apply it to all exposed skin.

    Wear long sleeves

    Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants can help protect your skin from mosquito bites. This is particularly important during the evening and night-time hours when mosquitoes are most active.

    Check the malaria risks in your area

    If you are travelling to an area where malaria is prevalent, it's important to research the specific risks and take appropriate precautions. Your doctor or a travel health clinic can advise you on the recommended preventive measures for your destination.

    Apply sunscreen before repellent

    When using both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first and let it dry before applying the repellent. This will help ensure that the repellent remains effective and doesn't interfere with the sunscreen's protection.

    The signs and symptoms of malaria

    The symptoms of malaria generally manifest between 6 and 30 days after exposure, but can potentially take up to a year. The most common symptoms of malaria include:

    • Fever
    • Chills and sweats
    • Headaches
    • Muscle and joint pain
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Fatigue
    • Loss of appetite
    • Diarrhoea
    • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
    • Anaemia (a low red blood cell count)

    If you experience any of these symptoms after travelling to an area where malaria is prevalent, you should seek medical attention right away.

    What to do if you think you have malaria

    If you experience malaria symptoms, you should contact a clinician as soon as possible. A doctor can conduct a blood test to confirm whether you have it, as well as which type you have.

    If left untreated, malaria can be fatal, particularly in young children and pregnant women. This is why it’s vital to take appropriate preventive measures and seek medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect you have malaria.

    Can you catch malaria twice?

    You can develop malaria more than once. Although it’s more like a ‘relapse’ than catching it twice. If you think you might have it you should speak to a doctor as soon as possible, even if you’ve had it before.

    Malaria treatment

    Treatment for malaria involves taking medication to kill the parasites in your bloodstream. The specific medication and duration of treatment will depend on the type of malaria you have and the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment options for you.

    As well as medication, treatment for malaria might also involve managing your symptoms, probably through rest, rehydration, and pain relief. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, hospitalisation may be necessary.

    It's crucial that you follow your doctor's instructions carefully when taking medication for malaria, as stopping treatment too soon or taking the wrong dosage can lead to the development of drug-resistant strains of the disease


    Malaria can be fatal, but by following some basic steps you can minimise your exposure. The chances of catching malaria increase drastically when you travel to malaria hotspots, so if you think you might have contracted malaria, it’s crucial that you seek treatment as soon as possible - don’t wait until you get home.

    We’ve got a range of resources available for those worried about malaria, including information on different antimalarial medications such as atovaquone-proguanil, Malarone, and doxycycline, all of which are available through Online Doctor. For more information, click here to speak to one of our online VideoGPs.

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