Warning for travellers to check vaccination and medication requirements after rise in malaria cases

Global malaria cases have surpassed pre-pandemic levels (Getty Images)
Global malaria cases have surpassed pre-pandemic levels (Getty Images)

UK travellers have been warned to check vaccination requirements ahead of their summer holidays after an increase in travel-related malaria cases.

Data published in April by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that the number of imported malaria cases diagnosed in 2023 exceeded 2,000 for the first time in 22 years.

Malaria is a parasite-caused disease that can be passed to humans through a mosquito bite, and symptoms include fever, headaches, fatigue and abdominal discomfort.

There is no licensed vaccine against malaria, but anti-malarial tablets are recommended when travellling to certain regions. Vaccines are available, and in some cases required, to prevent other infections that can be caught while travelling.

The 2,004 cases across England, Wales and Northern Ireland were confirmed in individuals who had recently been abroad – a rise of 635 compared to the previous year.

In 2022, the World Health Organisation reported that global malaria cases had surpassed pre-pandemic levels by 16 million to reach an estimated 249 million diagnoses.

The NHS says malaria can be found in large areas of Africa and Asia, Central and South America, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, parts of the Middle East, and some Pacific islands.

UKHSA reminded travellers to follow travel health advice for their summer holiday destinations and take antimalarials and mosquito bite avoidance measures.

Professor Peter Chiodini, director of the UKHSA Malaria Reference Laboratory (MRL), said: “All malaria cases are preventable and simple steps like using insect repellent, covering exposed skin, sleeping under treated bed nets and taking malaria prevention tablets can lower infection risks.”

Boots, a UK health retailer, recommends booking an appointment up to eight weeks before travelling for any vaccinations or antimalarial medication.

Claire Nevinson, superintendent pharmacist at Boots, said: “It’s important to take steps to protect our health when we travel abroad so we can focus on enjoying our holiday. Travel vaccinations or antimalarial medicines may be recommended depending on where you are travelling, the activities you will be doing and your age and general health.

“Some travel vaccinations may be recommended up to eight weeks before travelling for optimum protection – especially if more than one dose is required, so it’s important to check what vaccinations are recommended for your summer holiday destination as soon as possible.”