Travellers were warned yesterday of a growing threat from malaria after the number of Britons dying from the disease nearly doubled last year.

Travellers were warned yesterday of a growing threat from malaria after the number of Britons dying from the disease nearly doubled last year.

Seven million people travel from the UK to areas of the world where malaria is prevalent each year and about 2,000 return with the disease. Most cases can be treated with drugs, but some sufferers die within 24 hours of the first symptoms.

The figures, which showed that the death toll rose from nine to 16 last year, were released at the launch of Malaria Awareness Week, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, makers of the most expensive anti-malarial drug, Malarone, which costs £46 for treatment for a two-week holiday.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the adventurer, said: "Travellers need to understand this is a potentially fatal disease and everyone is susceptible."

Figures show that of the 1,944 cases in Britain in 2002, half were among visitors to west Africa; the Health Protection Agency says the region is a hotspot for the disease. Last year, five people who separately booked a last-minute holiday to The Gambia, the region's most popular holiday destination, came back with malaria and had to be admitted to hospital.

"It was a bad cluster and they had serious disease," the spokeswoman said.

British residents returning from visits to their country of origin accounted for half the UK cases last year. A survey found nearly 50 per cent of those questioned said they had failed to seek travel health advice when they should have. Many thought malaria was not serious, or that they would be protected in four-star hotels, or feared the side-effects of anti-malarial medication. The most severe form of malaria, caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, has been spreading in Africa and accounted for almost four out of five cases among UK travellers last year.

Comments