Malaria symptoms and prevention: What you need to know

Are you planning to travel? Protect yourself against malaria. Learn about malaria symptoms, prevention, and antimalarial drugs. 

About 2,000 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the United States every year. These cases often involve travelers returning from countries where malaria cases and transmission are high, such as in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asian regions. So it’s essential to be aware of what Malaria is and how you can keep yourself safe when traveling.

Symptoms of Malaria

Malaria is a serious, sometimes life-threatening illness transmitted by mosquitoes. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Shaking chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness

Malaria may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Some other diseases caused by insect bites are dengue fever and the Zika virus. Dengue fever is becoming more common, and there’s no vaccine in the United States. Symptoms include fever and joint pain.

Antimalarial drugs

To prevent malaria, travelers should take anti-malaria medication when going to places where the disease is present.

Here are considerations when choosing a drug for malaria prophylaxis:

  • Recommendations for drugs to prevent malaria differ by country of travel and can be found in CDC’s Malaria Information by Country table. Recommended medications for each country are listed in alphabetical order and have comparable efficacy in that country.

  • No antimalarial drug is 100% protective. Travelers must apply personal protective measures (i.e., insect repellent, wearing clothes with more coverage, sleeping in a mosquito-free setting, or using an insecticide-treated bed net).

  • For all medicines, always consider the possibility of drug conflict with other medications the person might be taking or allergies they may have.

Malaria prevention tips

Antimalarial medication can help prevent malaria, but it would help to practice other preventive tips to lower your risk of insect bites:

  • Use insect repellent. You must apply this two or three times a day. Put it on skin not covered by clothes, but don’t use it under your clothes.

  • Wear clothes treated with permethrin, a non-toxic to moderately toxic insect repellent. One application will help protect you from mosquitoes for more than a month. Use on outer clothing, but not on underwear.

  • Sleep under a permethrin-treated bed net unless you’re staying in a room with air-conditioning. The risk of malaria isn’t as high if the temperature is kept cool.

  • Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck your pants into your socks.

  • Wear closed-toe shoes.

If you’re planning to travel, stop by a travel clinic for advice on vaccines and preventive care. If you have symptoms of malaria, go to a walk-in urgent care center for primary care, treatment, or relief.