U.K. Malaria Cases Rise as Residents Visit Family, Study Says

Chantal Britt | 04 Jul 2008
Cases of a potentially fatal malaria strain have risen 32 percent in the U.K. in the past 20 years as residents make more visits to regions where the disease is widespread and fail to use preventive medicine, a study found.

There were 6,753 reported cases of faliciparum malaria between 2002 and 2006, compared with 5,120 cases between 1987 and 1991, Adrian Smith and colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in a British Medical Journal study.

There are about 515 million cases of malaria worldwide each year and about two million people die, mainly children in Sub- Saharan Africa. Infections in one of the 150 countries where the disease is endemic accounts for a large proportion of preventable disease and death in Europe every year, the study's authors said. There's an ``urgent need'' for people traveling to countries with malaria to be made more aware of means of prevention, Smith said.

``Despite the availability of highly effective preventive measures, the preventable burden from falciparum malaria has steadily increased in the U.K.,'' Smith said in his study. ``Provision of targeted and appropriately delivered preventive messages and services for travelers from migrant families visiting friends and relatives should be a priority.''

Confirmed Cases

Smith used data from 39,300 confirmed cases of malaria from the U.K.'s Health Protection Agency's Malaria Reference Laboratory to study malaria trends in the last 20 years. Faliciparum malaria accounts for 80 percent of all human malarial infections and about 90 percent of the deaths.

The scientists received funding from the Gates Malaria Partnership, the Leverhulme Trust and the U.K.'s Health Protection Agency.

Almost two-thirds of the 20,488 people infected while traveling had visited friends and relatives in malaria endemic countries. There were as many as 2.6 million visits to such areas in 2004 compared with 593,000 in 1987.

As much as 96 percent of falciparum malaria occurred after travel to Africa, the authors said. Travelers to Nigeria and Ghana, neither of which are common tourist destinations, accounted for half of all cases of imported falciparum malaria to the U.K., Smith said.

Malaria Prevention

Only 42 percent of U.K. travelers with complete medical records took any form of malaria prevention such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc.'s Malarone, Roche Holding AG's Lariam or AstraZeneca Plc.'s Paludrine and Avloclor. People visiting friends and relatives in their country of origin were less likely to use prophylactic therapy than other travelers.

``The study probably underestimates the true burden of malaria in U.K. travelers, and unless migration patterns to the U.K. change, this can be expected to increase,'' said Zuckerman, director of a WHO center for reference, research, and training in travel medicine.