Pills warning as malaria cases rise

People are being urged to pack anti-malaria pills if they go abroad after figures showed cases of the disease have jumped by almost 30% in two years.

There were 1,761 reports of malaria in the UK in 2010, up on the 1,495 in 2009 and 1,370 in 2008.

The data, from the Health Protection Agency (HPA), was released to mark World Malaria Day and includes Britons and visitors who fell ill in the UK.

Of 997 cases where information was available, 850 (85%) involved people who had not taken anti-malaria pills while on holiday or when visiting friends and family in countries where the disease is prevalent.

Over the last decade, around half of all cases of malaria reported in the UK have been in people who travelled to West Africa and India, mostly to visit friends and relatives.

Four out of 10 cases in 2010 were among UK residents who had travelled to Nigeria or Ghana and 11% of cases were people who had visited India.

Malaria is spread by mosquitos and it only takes one bite to become infected.

Symptoms can develop within eight days of a bite but the disease may stay inactive in the body for up to a year.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates there were 243 million cases of malaria in 2008 and almost a million deaths worldwide.

There are five different types of anti-malaria drugs available from UK GPs for Britons travelling abroad.

Professor Peter Chiodini, from the HPA's malaria reference laboratory, said people should seek travel advice and get appropriate medication to protect themselves against the disease.

He added: "Even people living in Britain visiting the country in which they were born or grew up, or have previously visited, are not immune from malaria and should take precautions."

Dr Jane Jones, head of the HPA's travel and migrant health section, said: "Malaria is a potentially deadly disease but is almost completely preventable.

"Anyone who is planning to travel to a tropical destination should always seek advice from their GP or travel health clinic before their trip.

"It is a myth that people who have had malaria will not get it again.

"Our advice is the same for all travellers - you must take anti-mosquito precautions and medication to keep safe."

According to the HPA, people who visit friends and relatives are at greater risk of other travel-related infectious diseases, compared to business or holiday travellers, because they tend to travel for longer periods of time and usually stay with family or friends.

It was revealed in November that Chelsea player Didier Drogba had suffered from malaria for at least a month before it was diagnosed.

The Ivory Coast striker had gone home to watch his national team but Chelsea said at the time they were unlikely to ever pin down when and where he became infected.