Malaria is a parasitic disease caused by several species of protozoa from the Plasmodium genus. It is spread by mosquitoes and is endemic in most tropical zones, except for the lesser West Indies, the Reunion Island, the Seychelles, the Maldives, Hong Kong, Singapore, French Polynesia, and New Caledonia. Fever in the months that follow a trip to malarious countries should always suggest malaria. The typical symptoms of the invasive phase are bilious attack, fever and headache. Untreated infection with P. falciparum can lead to severe illness and ultimately death. With other species, relapses may occur for up to 3 years (with P. vivax), 5 years (with P. ovale), or even 15 to 25 years (with P. malariae) after returning from the endemic area. Cerebral malaria is a medical emergency and should systematically be treated with quinine IV. The treatment of uncomplicated infections with P. falciparum should vary according to the area in which the patients were infected, as the species is becoming resistant to a growing number of drugs and this resistance varies depending on the region. Uncomplicated infections with other species react well to chloroquine. Medical prophylaxis does not prevent infection, and should be adapted to each case when travelling to malarious countries. In all cases, travellers should protect themselves against evening insect bites.
Last update: February 2005