Malaria is an acute and chronic infectious disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is spread through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito. New Zealanders can catch the disease when travelling to tropical regions in Asia, Africa, and Central or South America.
Four different species of the Plasmodium parasite can cause malaria: P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae and P. falciparum. Initial symptoms of malaria include fever, shivering, chills, malaise, headache and sweats, but it can present as a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness. Malaria caused by P. falciparum is the most dangerous and can progress to liver and kidney failure, coma and death.
Travellers who visit regions where malaria occurs should avoid mosquito bites (e.g. by using insect repellent and wearing long, light-coloured clothing) and take antimalarial drugs, such as chloroquine, mefloquine and doxycycline. The choice of medication used depends on the type of malaria parasite present at the destinations, the parasites' drug resistance status (resistance to chloroquine is common in some regions), the length of stay and the availability of healthcare facilities. It is very important that the medication is taken as directed.