Prevention of malaria involves protecting yourself against mosquito bites and taking antimalarial medicines. But public health officials strongly recommend that young children and pregnant women avoid traveling to areas where malaria is common.
The most current information about malaria is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). If you are planning international travel, you can learn about the risk of malaria in that geographic area and the medicines recommended to prevent infection by contacting:
- The CDC at its toll-free phone number (1-800-232-4636) or website (www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/index.html).
- Your doctor or local health department.
Prevent mosquito bites
To prevent mosquito bites, follow these guidelines:
- Stay inside when it is dark outside, preferably in a screened or air-conditioned room.
- Wear protective clothing (long pants and long-sleeved shirts).
- Use insect repellent with DEET (N,N diethylmetatoluamide). The repellent is available in varying strengths up to 100%. In young children, use a preparation containing less than 24% strength, because too much of the chemical can be absorbed through the skin.
- Use bed nets (mosquito netting) sprayed with or soaked in an insecticide such as permethrin or deltamethrin. But make sure that these insecticides still work against the mosquitoes where you are. In some areas, mosquitoes have become resistant to permethrin and deltamethrin. So the bed nets do not offer much protection.4
- Use flying-insect spray indoors around sleeping areas.
- Avoid areas where malaria and mosquitoes are present if you are at higher risk (for example, if you are pregnant, very young, or very old).
Other steps that may be helpful in reducing the risk of malaria include using air conditioning and electric fans, wearing protective clothing, using aerosol insecticides in your house, and taking certain antimalarial medicines.5
Medicines to prevent malaria
The selection of medicines to prevent malaria depends on the geographic region where you may be exposed to malaria and your health condition (such as being pregnant, being elderly or young, being sick, or having immunity or resistance to malaria, or having allergies or sensitivity to the medicine).
If you are going to a location where malaria is present, it is very important to take preventive medicines and to follow the correct schedule for taking them. The majority of people who become infected with malaria do not take preventive malaria medicines or do not follow the correct dosing schedule.
- Medicine to prevent malaria is most effective if you take the recommended dosage exactly as prescribed and for the length of time required.
- If you are to take the medicine once a week, take it on the same day of the week each week.
- Upon returning from an area where malaria is present, continue the medicine for the recommended length of time to ensure that all parasites have been eliminated from your body. You will need to take the medicine for 1 to 4 weeks after returning.