Travel websites urged to display malaria warnings

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Travel websites urged to display malaria warnings

19th January 2011

Travel websites offering last minute deals to holiday destinations where malaria is a risk are being urged to clearly display explicit warnings about the disease.

The call comes after doctors in Middlesbrough treated three patients in a week, all of whom had just returned from holidays in The Gambia - a popular 'winter sun' destination for UK travellers.

"All three patients, who were in their 40s and 50s, had booked their holidays to The Gambia with the same travel website," said Katherine Allen, Head of the Travel and International Litigation department at Fentons Solicitors LLP. "None of them however, had conducted any research into the risk of contracting malaria in the region.

"Had they done so, they would have discovered that malaria is highly endemic in the West African country and is a risk to travellers throughout the year," she said. "Had they been aware of this and sought medical advice prior to travelling as a result, they would have been strongly advised of the need to take appropriate precautions."

Malaria is a female mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by a parasite known as 'Plasmodium.' It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Symptoms - including fever, headaches and in severe cases hallucinations, coma, and death - can develop between eight days and several months after being bitten. In some cases the parasites can stay inactive in the body and symptoms may not develop for up to a year.

"Imported cases of malaria occurring in holidaymakers are relatively common in the UK, mostly from West Africa," said Katherine, a partner with the firm. "Simple measures such as covering up the skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers and using insect repellents, as well as taking chemoprophylaxis tablets, can significantly reduce the risks of contracting an infection."

None of the three patients treated at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough had any medication that would have helped prevent malaria infection. All had contracted the most serious form of the disease, the potentially fatal 'falciparum' strain which can develop rapidly and lead to severe illness and death, and all were admitted to hospital within two weeks of returning home.

As well as flagging the issue with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), the Middlesbrough doctors also wrote to The British Medical Journal, bemoaning the fact that many travel websites and holiday brochures make no specific reference to the risk of contracting malaria. As a result, holidaymakers booking late bargains are left no time to seek medical advice or organise appropriate malaria vaccinations.

In response to the doctors concerns, ABTA stated that it is not only obligatory for ABTA members to make their clients aware of compulsory vaccinations, but also to advise them to seek medical advice. They added that most travel websites did in fact carry information about the risks of malaria, but it was not always apparent and the issue of booking late meant that holidaymakers did not often bother with reading everything on the websites.

"With the increasing use of late holiday booking travel websites, people on the look out for reduced fare bargains have become accustomed to leaving the planning of their holidays to the very last minute, inevitably leading to difficulties in organising medical advice and malaria chemoprophylaxis," said Katherine.

"It is very important that travel websites clearly display warnings to their clients about the need to allow sufficient time to seek medical advice from a travel clinic or their GP, so they can obtain any required chemoprophylaxis before travelling to malaria endemic regions bearing in mind some malaria medication needs to be taken several weeks before travelling to an affected area."

Read More - Sky