Malaria may potentially be life-threatening, but it is also easily preventable by taking adequate precautions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) may have declared Singapore malaria-free since 1982, but with more Singaporeans travelling overseas, particularly to countries where malaria still prevails, it is advisable to take precautions to prevent a malaria infection.

There were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria infections worldwide in 2010, according to the WHO. The African continent still has the highest number of malaria cases. In Southeast Asia, the risk varies. In 2011, India had 61 per cent of confirmed malaria cases in the region, followed by Myanmar (22 per cent) and Indonesia (12 per cent).

“Malaria is a potentially life threatening illness yet is easily preventable by taking adequate precautions and anti-malaria prophylaxis,” says ​Dr Limin Wijaya, Senior Consultant, Department of Infectious Diseases, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

The severity of the malaria symptoms will depend on the patient’s immunity, the type of malaria parasite and whether the patient receives treatment early, adds Dr Wijaya.

Generally, the patient should begin to recover within days of treatment. However, left untreated, malaria can, in rare cases, lead to serious consequences, including death.

Causes of malaria

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease, caused by a type of parasite called Plasmodium. The disease spreads from person to person through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito – the only mosquito species known to carry malaria.

Once the parasites enter the bloodstream, they will travel to the liver where they can remain dormant from a week to 10 months – before they start reproducing and infecting the body’s red blood cells. When that happens, the infected person will experience malaria symptoms such as chills and high fever.

Of the four types of Plasmodium parasites that can cause malaria, the Plasmodium falciparum is the most deadly and can lead to seizures, kidney failure, coma and death if left untreated.

According to the WHO’s World Malaria Report 2012, the majority of confirmed malaria cases in Southeast Asia are caused by Plasmodium falciparum.

Symptoms of malaria

The initial symptoms of malaria are flu-like and may include the following:

  • High fever
  • Shaking chills
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhoea

These symptoms can be mild and can sometimes be difficult to identify as malaria.

“It is important to see a doctor if you have travelled to a malaria endemic country and tell the doctor your travel history as one can turn very ill quickly,” cautions Dr Wijaya.

Treatment for malaria

Blood tests can confirm whether you have malaria and which of the four Plasmodium parasites is making you sick.

Depending on the type of malaria parasite, doctors will prescribe any of these anti-malarial treatments: artesunate combination therapy, chloroquine, mefloquine, quinine, and primaquine. These anti-malarial drugs are taken either orally, intravenously or by injection.

The SGH Travel Clinic is run by specialists from the Department of Infectious Diseases. It is a designated Yellow Fever Centre. The team of doctors and nurses will offer comprehensive travel advice and country-specific recommendations prior to your trip.

Read on for 7 tips on how to prevent malaria​.

Ref: S13​