Pregnant women should only travel to malaria-risk countries if their trip is essential, advises new patient information published today by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
The new information applies mostly to women who live in the UK. It may not apply to women who live in an area where malaria is common, such as parts of Africa, Asia and South America.
The information looks at how malaria can affect the health and well-being of mother and baby and how to reduce the risk of getting malaria during pregnancy. It also covers how malaria is diagnosed and treated in pregnancy.
Malaria is a serious infection caused by a parasite which lives in mosquitoes. In the UK, about 1500 cases of malaria are reported each year and around 10 people will die from the disease. However, there have been no malaria-related deaths in a pregnant or recently pregnant women in the UK in the last 10 years.
Pregnant women are more likely to get malaria because their immunity to any infection is lower. Moreover, pregnant women are more likely to experience a severe form of malaria and to develop severe complications from the infection. Prompt and effective antimalarial treatment can reduce the risks.
Malaria infection carries serious risks to both mother and baby, including miscarriage, stillbirth and premature labour and therefore women should only travel if their trip is essential.
If the trip is unavoidable, women should seek advice from a centre with expertise in malaria who will provide information on ways to reduce the risk of infection. Women should follow the ‘ABC’ for malaria prevention:
- Awareness of the risk of malaria
- Bite prevention
- Chemoprophylaxis (taking antimalarial medication).
The symptoms of malaria include a high temperature or flu-like symptoms such as headaches and muscle pains, a cough and feeling more tired than usual. Symptoms can also include feeling sick, vomiting and having diarrhoea. Symptoms may take a week or more to develop after being bitten.
A fever or flu-like illness up to a year after returning from a high-risk country may be malaria.
Chair of the RCOG’s Patient Information Committee, Philippa Marsden, said:
“Being aware of the risks of malaria to both mother and baby is important for women either pregnant or planning a pregnancy. They should only travel to malaria-risk countries if absolutely necessary.
“If a pregnant woman must travel it is vital they take precautions to prevent mosquito bites. This patient information explains in detail how to reduce the risk of getting malaria.”
Cath Broderick, Chair of the RCOG Women’s Network said:
“This information is helpful for women and their families who would like to know about malaria and pregnancy.
“If women are worried about symptoms after returning from a high risk country and think they may have malaria they should see a doctor immediately and inform them of their recent travels.”
For further information, please contact the RCOG Media and PR team on +44 20 7772 6300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This information has been developed by the RCOG Patient Information Committee. It is based on the RCOG Green-top guidelines The Diagnosis and Treatment of Malaria in Pregnancy (2010) and The Prevention of Malaria in Pregnancy (2010). These guidelines contain a full list of the sources of evidence used.