Overview - Malaria

Malaria is a serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. If it is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can be fatal.

Symptoms of malaria

It's important to be aware of the symptoms of malaria if you're travelling to areas where there's a high risk of the disease.

Symptoms include:

Symptoms usually appear between 7 and 18 days after becoming infected. In some cases the symptoms may not appear for up to a year, or even longer.

When to seek medical attention

Seek medical help immediately if you develop symptoms of malaria during or after a visit to an area where the disease is found.

You should still seek medical help even if it's several weeks, months or a year after you return from travelling.

If there's a possibility you have malaria, a blood test will be carried out to confirm whether or not you're infected.

If you have malaria, treatment will be started straight away.

Causes of malaria

Malaria is mainly spread by mosquitoes, which mainly bite at dusk and at night.

Malaria can also be spread through blood transfusions and the sharing of needles, but this is very rare.

Malaria risk areas

Malaria is found mainly in tropical regions of the world.

Malaria is not found in Ireland – it may be diagnosed in travellers who return to Ireland from risk areas.

For more information about the risk of malaria in specific countries visit TravelHealth.ie

Preventing malaria

Many cases of malaria can be avoided. An easy way to remember is the ABCD approach to prevention:

  • Awareness of risk – find out whether you're at risk of getting malaria before travelling
  • Bite prevention – avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering your arms and legs, and using an insecticide-treated mosquito net
  • Check with your GP if you need to take malaria prevention tablets, and if so take them correctly
  • Diagnosis – seek immediate medical advice if you develop malaria symptoms, even up to a year after you return from travelling

Treating malaria

If malaria is diagnosed and treated promptly, most people will make a full recovery. Treatment should start as soon as malaria is diagnosed.

Antimalarial medication is used to both treat and prevent malaria.

Which type of medication is used and the length of treatment will depend on:

  • the type of malaria
  • the severity of your symptoms
  • where you caught malaria
  • whether you took an antimalarial to prevent malaria
  • whether you're pregnant

In some cases, you may be prescribed emergency standby treatment for malaria before you travel. This is usually if there's a risk of you becoming infected with malaria while travelling in a remote area with little or no access to medical care.

Complications of malaria

Malaria is a serious illness that can get worse very quickly. It can be fatal if not treated promptly.

It can also cause serious complications, including:

  • severe anaemia – where red blood cells are unable to carry enough oxygen around the body, leading to drowsiness and weakness
  • cerebral malaria – in rare cases, the small blood vessels leading to the brain can become blocked, causing seizures, brain damage and coma

Malaria is usually more severe in pregnant women, babies, young children and the elderly. If you're pregnant you are usually advised not to travel to malaria risk areas.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Slaintecare logo
This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 23 March 2021
Next review due: 23 March 2024