New data from Public Health England (PHE) show that in 2018, there were 1683 cases of imported malaria reported in the UK, with 1597 occurring in England, 52 in Scotland, 23 in Wales and 11 in Northern Ireland. The figure is 5.9 per cent above the mean number of cases reported between 2009 and 2018.
The majority (81.7%) of cases in 2018 were caused by Plasmodium falciparum. The proportion of cases caused by Plasmodium vivax (8.5%) and Plasmodium ovale (7.0%) were similar to 2017 (9.2% and 6.0%, respectively).
Six malaria deaths were reported in 2018, similar to 2017, 2016 and 2015. The data show that older age is a major risk factor for both falciparum and severe vivax malaria, with all vivax deaths occurring in those aged >50 years. During 2000-2018, the median age of falciparum deaths was 49 years.
Among patients with malaria who travelled abroad from the UK, where the history of chemoprophylaxis was available, 88 per cent had not taken chemoprophylaxis. This represents a considerable increase from the figures of 52 per cent and 59 per cent in 2000 and 2001, respectively. Of all cases where chemoprophylaxis information was available, only 9 per cent had taken a drug recommended by the Advisory Committee for Malaria Prevention.
“These data imply that health messages about the importance of antimalarial chemoprophylaxis are still not reaching groups who are at particular risk of acquiring malaria, or that travellers are either not understanding or acting on these messages,” PHE says.
It urges those providing travel advice to engage with at-risk groups and to use potential opportunities to talk about future travel plans outside a specific travel health consultation, such as during new patient checks or childhood immunisation appointments.