You can take medicines called antimalarials to prevent and treat malaria. Malaria is a very serious disease, and its presence in many regions of the world is well known. So if you are traveling to an area where malaria is present, it is important to reduce the risk of infection by taking medicine before you travel, while you are in the area, and after you return home. Which medicine you take is based on:
- The country or areas in which you will be traveling.
- The resistance of malaria parasites to certain medicines in the area where you will be traveling.
- Your health condition (for example, whether you are pregnant, elderly or young, sick, or have immunity or resistance to malaria).
It is important to know which species of parasite is present, because serious complications may develop rapidly in a person who is infected with Plasmodium (P.) falciparum. Drug treatment is based on:
- The species of parasite. If you are infected with P. falciparum, life-threatening complications can develop rapidly. Infection caused by one of the other four species of malaria parasite is rarely life-threatening.
- The density of parasites. If the percentage of red blood cells infected (parasite density) is over 5%, treatment may include medicines given directly into a vein (intravenously, or IV) rather than medicine taken by mouth.
- Your health condition. You are at higher risk for having complications if you are pregnant, elderly, very young, or have a weak immune system. Different medicines may be prescribed for people in these groups.
- Drug resistance in the geographic area where the infection occurred. For instance, in many areas P. falciparum is resistant to the drug chloroquine.
During malaria treatment, your doctor may do daily blood smears to follow the course of the infection. Most medicines for malaria are ones you take by mouth. But you might get intravenous (IV) medicines if there are complications or your condition gets worse. If there are no complications, your fever will clear in 36 to 48 hours. And most parasites will disappear from your blood within 2 or 3 days.
The medicines used may change as malaria parasites develop resistance and as new medicines are developed.