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81% Of Malaria Cases In UK Residents Are From Visiting Friends And Family Abroad

June 12, 2017

Contrary to popular belief, malaria is not just about tourists or superstars. The main sufferers are British travellers of African descent who are not protecting themselves when they travel to visit friends and family abroad.

Statistics show that more than eight out of ten cases in UK residents last year were in people visiting relatives (81 per cent of cases, where a reason for travel was stated).

Public Health Minister, Anne Milton, issued the warning to all travellers today, in the wake of Cheryl Cole's recent illness. But the message 'know before you go' about malaria is often not heeded by people who routinely visit countries where malaria is endemic.

Even though malaria is not endemic in the UK, in 2009 there were 1,495 cases in those returning to or arriving in the UK. It's important that all travellers take proper medical precautions whether they're backpacking, just visiting, or going to see friends and family in a familiar country.

Health Protection Agency statistics of 2009 cases show that: 81 per cent (584 cases out of 722 reported cases in travellers from the UK) occurred in people visiting friends and family abroad. Tourists from the UK accounted for only eight per cent of cases (57 out of 722 reported cases in travellers from the UK). Where listed, 1,036 out of 1,495 cases were in people who had travelled to or arrived from African countries. 155 out of 1,495 cases were in people who had travelled to or arrived from Asia, Far East, and South East Asia. Public Health Minister Anne Milton said:

"Malaria is one of the most prevalent causes of death from infectious disease across the world. Although deaths from it in the UK are rare, it is a significant public health risk for UK travellers.

"Thankfully, malaria is preventable. Whatever reason people have for their trip to a country where malaria is common, I urge them to talk to their doctor before they leave to make sure they are fully protected with the right tablets and are aware of the signs and symptoms."

Ron Behrens Consultant in tropical and travel medicine at UCLH, where Cheryl Cole was treated, said:

Travellers visiting friends and family abroad account for around 80 per cent of malaria cases in the UK.

This is largely because people do not take medication as they mistakenly believe they are immune to the disease having grown up in an endemic country.

This is a myth that needs busting; they remain at risk. The message is simple: taking tablets stops the disease, they will protect people against something which at best will involve a course of medication to destroy parasites in the blood and involve a stay in hospital and at worst can kill you.

Dr Tunji Lasoye, a consultant in the Emergency Department at King's College Hospital said:

Sadly I have first hand experience of the terrible consequences that not taking anti malarial medication has on people. Many of these patients have been extremely ill and have contracted the disease after returning home to visit friends and relatives.

Malaria is a serious disease and we must do all we can to raise awareness in the African and Asian communities of the importance of taking the proper medical precautions. Taking these tablets could save your life.

Everyone knows that cancer and heart disease regularly top the biggest killer lists globally, but few realise that malaria is killing up to a million people worldwide annually, according to the World Health Organization. Before travelling people must make sure that they:

speak to a doctor about getting the right medicines for the countries and regions they will be visiting - malaria parasites are resistant to different types of malaria tablet in different countries ask their doctor about any preventative treatments they may need for other travel-related illnesses make sure they do this well in advance, and take the medicines at the right time (usually before, during, and after the trip) complete the course of treatment as directed When abroad they should: avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent. Ask for repellent containing DEET - this is particularly effective keep arms and legs covered after sunset ensure the sleeping area is properly screened and air conditioned if possible sleep under a mosquito net covered with insecticide Last week International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, launched a consultation to inform how British aid will be spent to help tackle malaria in developing countries which account for 98% of the 2300 malaria deaths every day.

Source: Department of Health, UK.