Travellers told to forget malaria pills for India

A passage to India has long involved taking tablets to ward off malaria - but travellers to the subcontinent are being advised to forget the pills. Instead, they should focus on avoiding bites.

The recommendation comes from an organisation known as TropMedEurop, an electronic network of infectious disease specialists. Researchers analysed all the malaria cases imported into eight European countries from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka between 1999 and 2004. Even though malaria remains a hazard in the subcontinent, the study concluded that, for the average holidaymaker, the dangers from taking prophylactic drugs rated higher than the risk of disease.

The TropMedEurop analysis showed that a visitor to India faced a risk of catching malaria equivalent to one attack per 1,923 years spent in the country; the corresponding risk for Pakistan was 1,059 years. These figures represent all cases of the disease, but most incidences of malaria from the subcontinent are the relatively mild vivax form. The risk of contracting falciparum malaria - the kind that can kill - in India is estimated at one per 27,888 years.

"The new advice is not an invitation to trust to luck", said one travel medicine specialist. "The single most important precaution for travellers is to avoid being bitten: besides malaria, plenty of other insect-borne diseases thrive in the region."

In Africa, meanwhile, malaria continues to flourish. Of more than a million deaths that the disease causes each year worldwide, nine out of 10 fatalities are in sub-Saharan Africa. The region is also the source of most of the 2,000-plus cases of malaria that British travellers bring back to the country each year.

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