Malaria: The holiday bug with a lethal sting

The most deadly form of malaria is on the rise among travellers – yet all too many are failing to take the steps that could prevent it. City worker Andrew Wylde tells Rob Sharp his own cautionary tale

Filling up your back-pack for a trip to Western Africa, you try to pack in all the precautions necessary to stave off a whole gamut of freakish events, from rock falls to asteroid strikes. Mini-first-aid-kit? Check. Imodium? Check. Factor 30 suncream? Check. Malarone? Check. So imagine your horror when you return to the UK, a month later, carrying a disease that is one of the most widespread killers on the planet. Talk about bad luck.

Malaria claims the lives of a million people worldwide every year – and many of these people have the means to prevent it. In the UK, around 2,000 people return from abroad with the disease annually; between 10 and 12 of these cases die. Often these are travellers who have not been as vigilant as they should be. According to the travel website Gapyear.com, a third of gap year travellers do not take antimalarials, and around 41 per cent do not sleep under a mosquito net, despite travelling to an area where the disease is prevalent. According to Malaria Hotspots, a travel advice website set up by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, there has been a 190 per cent increase in travel to malarious destinations such as Africa and India over the past 10 years. In addition, the most severe form of malaria (Plasmodium falciparum) is on the increase among British travellers. At this time of year, when students are gearing up for their years abroad, parents should take note.

One man who knows just how real is the risk of malaria is Andrew Wylde, a 24-year-old investment banker working for CitiGroup in London's Canary Wharf. He contracted malaria twice when travelling in the Upper West region of Ghana, and at one point doctors told him he'd been just 12 hours away from dying. He now believes it's down to the fact that he did not take his anti-malarial, Lariam, as religiously as he should have. He suffered from a temperature of over 40 degrees and was unable to move or leave his bed for two weeks. He also lost a dangerous amount of weight.

While Wylde took Lariam, there are various anti-malarial pills which are available over the counter. Chloroquine and Paludrine are generally taken together, but are losing their efficacy in Africa. On prescription, Lariam varies in effectiveness, though might not work with children and can cause hallucinations. Doxycycline and Malarone can cause sunburn but are more effective. However, it must be stressed that these are all preventative measures rather than vaccines.

Wylde says the problems started when he took a break from his volunteer work with a British charity linked to a series of Jesuit missions that were supplying teaching work to rural schools, in Wa, in the northwest part of the country. "We played football every day at about six o'clock and that's when the mozzies would come out," he says. "And one night I stayed out there a bit later, until around seven o'clock, and didn't think anything of it. But I came back with a lot of bites."

Three or four days after this onslaught he began to get sweats, diarrhoea and aches. Ignoring it to begin with, a few days later he says he was finishing a beer when the full extent of the illness hit him like a rocket. "I just started to sweat so hard my head began pounding. I returned to the house I was staying in to discover that my temperature was soaring. I felt alright about it but my mate was freaking out because he knew how serious it could be. But I wasn't really with it, being pretty blasé. I went to the hospital and they diagnosed me pretty immediately with malaria. I remember them indicating to me that it was in the latter stages. Up until that point I thought it was something dodgy I'd eaten and the heat, I think."

He was put on a drip. "They wanted to rehydrate me as soon as possible, and filled me with drugs. I lost loads of weight. I didn't tell my parents at the time; I waited until I was better two or three weeks later and they obviously freaked out. I think everyone does."

Only one month later, he contracted the disease again. "I'm not sure how I got it that time," he says. "We had a huge mango tree outside our house so a lot of mosquitoes would go into the shade of it during the day. I used to spend time there listening to the World Service." When he got ill this time he went straight to a doctor, and it only took him a week to recover. "This time I realised something was up almost straight away and went to a medic more or less immediately. I wanted them to sort it out as soon as possible, naturally."

At this point he first noticed the disparity in the way the Westerners and the locals were treated. "I knew a couple of the kids in the school I was working in who died from malaria and that was such a tragic experience," he says. "Obviously you are going to get ill when you're poorer because you might not have the diet. I was lucky enough to have a hospital very close to where I was staying but it can take about 20 hours to get to somewhere suitable in some of the rural areas when people are travelling on foot. I mean, the second time I got malaria I went to one of the best doctors in the region. I even went to his house, where there were pictures of him shaking hands with the Pope and Bill Clinton. I doubt most people would have had that opportunity."

Sometimes malaria in Westerners is not remedied so easily. Jo Yirrell, who now works as a campaigner for malaria awareness, lost her 20-year-old son Harry to malaria in 2005. He had gone travelling in western Ghana only to contract the disease; he returned after four months and died in hospital. Yirrell retraced his steps in a BBC News documentary Our World: Malaria, broadcast last month. "Harry had not completed his full course of medication," she now says. "And didn't sleep under a mosquito net. He thought it was something that wouldn't happen to people like him."

Kate Humble, the wildlife presenter and science journalist, contracted cerebral malaria while on holiday in Zanzibar. "I am extremely lucky. I didn't take malarial pills. When I got home I started feeling really ill. I assumed I had flu. Horrible feelings. I spent a week in hospital, with two blood tests every day. I took a drug to kill the infection; it made my ears ring. The whole experience was absolutely miserable. No one likes being in hospital. Idiotically, I did it again when I went back to Ghana ... I thought I'd be fine and I got it again and I had another miserable week in hospital. I got a lot of flak from the doctors and nurses who said I should have known better. They were right. I could have died."

Despite all the scare stories, it is unlikely to stop twentysomethings from venturing into the unknown. "It won't stop me travelling," says Wylde. "I'll go anywhere and try anything. When it comes to malaria, chances are you're going to be bitten by something. Even then, you should be wary about assuming tablets are a vaccine rather than a preventative measure. If you get bitten by 10 mosquitoes in a night and one of them has malaria the drug will probably do its job. But if you get bitten by 40, and half of them are carrying it, then you might not be so lucky."

How to avoid malaria

* Don't transfer anti-malarial tablets from one country to the next because mosquitoes are becomingly increasingly resistant to prescription drugs. In West Africa chloroquine has been found to be virtually ineffective in certain areas as has Lariam in South East Asia, so it's always important to get a new prescription for each country you're travelling to.

* Make sure you follow the instructions on your anti-malarial pills because you often need to take them up to a week before you travel. You should start taking mefloquine (Lariam) two to three weeks before, doxycycline and Malarone one to two days before travel and start all other anti-malarial medicine one week before travel.

* Malaria drugs may seem expensive but they're absolutely essential to prevent catching the disease. Shop around for the best price – online pharmacists often do a good deal. You have to post your prescription first and fill out some forms, but you can make huge savings.

* Hook a mosquito net over your bed whilst you're away on your trip. They're now super-lightweight and pack down small and are essential for countries like India and Africa. Go for one with a Permethrin-impregnated mesh – which will stop even the tiniest of mosquitoes from crawling through the holes.

* Apply a mosquito repellant to any areas that your clothing doesn't cover – particularly your hands, neck and feet. Look for repellants that contain diethyltoluamide (Deet), a powerful anti-malarial chemical. Brands which contain 20 per cent Deet are safe to use for children, those which contain 50 per cent Deet are safe for adults, and 100 per cent products should only be used on clothes.

Kate Proctor

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Developer

    £700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

    Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

    £30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

    Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

    £40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

    Web developer (C#.NET, ASP.NET, MVC3/4, HTML5, CSS3, JAVASCRIPT

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment