This may be more of a health question than a travel question, but it definitely applies to travelers to many parts of the world. If someone gets malaria (either through not taking preventative pills or because they don't stop a particular infection), what are the consequences? In countries with decent medical care, is it simply a matter of taking anti-malarial pills as treatment until the infection is gone? Or is malaria, as some have told me, a lifelong infection that will chronically recur once it has infected someone?

Or, to put it another way, in travel destinations where malaria risk is borderline, is it very important to take preventative measures to avoid serious consequences, or is the disease not serious and easily treatable as long as you have access to good health care?


3 Answers 3


Disclaimer: IANAD, consult yours

  • There are at least 3 different strains of malaria. The most dangerous is Malaria tropica
  • All strains treatable quite well and are not life threatening if treated quickly
  • All strains can recur, sometimes after decades (this is actually more likely with the other, less dangerous strains). This only happens if treated too late or inadequately, and if treated correctly when they occur, recurrences should end. But of course this requires a correct diagnosis, which isn't a given for a recurrence after several years.
  • Malaria drugs have considerable side effects. For this reason, the general recommendation is to take prophylactic drugs only when traveling in high-risk areas. For low-risk areas, just keep the (actual treatment, not prophylactic) drugs with you and take them when you have any kind of fever and cannot immediately consult a doctor.
  • -1 for "For low-risk areas, just keep the drugs with you and take them when you have any kind of fever." If you have prophylactic malaria medication this advise is non-sensical.
    – user141
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 8:34
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    @Andra: What's non-sensical is to assume that I was talking about prophylactic medication in that case. I suppose I should make the distinction explicit, though. Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 8:38
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    In fact to the best of my knowledge the very same medicines are used for prophylaxis and treatment. I looked into this quite a bit when I travelled in Central America for a year about five years back. So I would agree with Michael's non-doctorly advice. Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 8:42
  • @hippietrail The question was if malaria is not a severe disease. Not what to do if you are far away from medical attention. The best advise is to seek medical attention asap and not DIY.
    – user141
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 12:54
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    Yes I agree it is a very serious disease but sometimes you can in fact get caught without a doctor so I think the best answers to this question should cover both, as the travel guides do. But I also think it's beyond the scope of this site and belongs somewhere about health and medicine. Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 12:58

Malaria is a serious condition. Don't do DIY medication. Most malaria medications are prophylactic. Furthermore, there are many Malaria strains that have developed resistance against existing medication.

It is advisable to seek medical attention as soon as you experience flu-like conditions. Malaria is diagnosed by counting the parasites in your blood.

On this website of a Dutch University hospital, it is stated that the disease can surface up to 12 months after infection, they refrain from giving online medical advice and suggest seeking professional attention ASAP.

So I would say that the risk of a Malaria infection should not be taken lightly.

  • 3
    -1 for "Don't do DIY medication" - DIY medication is most definitely recommended (by doctors) unless you can get to a hospityl very quickly. Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 8:42
  • @MichaelBorgwardt, indeed but that was not the question: "as long as you have access to good health care"
    – user141
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 13:04
  • Yes, sorry if the question was vague. I understand malaria is a serious disease if not treated promptly. My question was: if good health care is available and potential infections are treated promptly, how serious is the disease and what are the consequences?
    – jrdioko
    Commented Dec 27, 2011 at 18:14

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease transmitted by mosquitoes and causes symptoms that typically include fever, fatigue, vomiting and headaches (Other symptoms could be muscle pains, diarrhoea, generally feeling unwell). In severe cases it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma or death (most deaths are caused by P. falciparum). These signs and symptom usually begin 8–25 days following infection, therefore if you become infected with the most serious type of malaria, there is a risk you could quickly develop severe and life-threatening complications such as breathing problems and organ failure if you are not treated promptly.

When you're bitten by a malaria-infected mosquito, the parasites that cause malaria are released into your blood and infect your liver cells. The parasite reproduces in the liver cells, which then burst open. This allows thousands of new parasites to enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells. The parasites reproduce again in the blood cells, kill the blood cells, and then move to other uninfected blood cells. Malaria can be a very serious disease for a pregnant woman and her developing fetus. If the infected person is not treated, serious complications or death can occur. Malaria caused by P. falciparum can come back (recur) at irregular intervals for up to 2 years if treatment is not complete. And P. malariae can remain in the blood of an infected person for more than 30 years, usually without causing any symptoms.

One example could be singer Cheryl Cole (article), who was given 24 hours to live after contracting the disease during a trip to Tanzania.

Seek medical advice immediately if you develop symptoms of malaria during or after a visit to an area where the disease is found, even if it is several weeks, months or a year after you return from travelling.


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