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Interview

World Malaria Day: prevention, symptoms, treatment

malaria
The mosquito that carries the disease is mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, but three cases of local contamination were recently detected in the United States - © Pixabay

Dr Olivia Keïta-Perse, Head of the Epidemiology and Hospital Hygiene Department at the Princess Grace Hospital (CHPG), gives us her top tips on how to avoid contracting the disease.

It affects 249 million people worldwide, mainly in the world’s hottest countries, and the tropics in particular. While we might therefore think that the Principality is not concerned, beware! A little over half a dozen patients have been treated at the CHPG following a trip, and it is possible that global warming is enabling the disease’s carrier, the Anopheles mosquito, to become acclimatised on the Côte d’Azur.

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Up until a few years ago, the tiger mosquito, a carrier of dengue fever, was only found in tropical regions, but it is now quite at home, not only on the Côte d’Azur, but virtually throughout France.

The parasitic disease is only transmitted by mosquito bites. “It is not passed on from person to person,” the doctor told us, adding that “the blood sucked up during the mosquito’s first bite goes through the insect’s salivary glands and is then spread during a second bite.”

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A potentially fatal disease 

There are several types of Plasmodium, and the disease is more or less serious depending on the species that administers the bite. Unfortunately, the most widespread, Plasmodium falciparum, carried by the Anopheles mosquito, is also the most common cause of fatal complications.

However, the specialist mentioned that the Plasmodium is a ‘one-off deal’: “with species other than plasmodium falciparum, it is possible for the patient to have another attack a few years later, even without  having been bitten a second time.”

While the mosquitoes do not bite children more often, they are the ones who develop serious forms of the disease. In fact, 80% of malaria victims are children, resulting in 500,000 child deaths every year, the vast majority of which are in Africa. This is why the vaccine, which has been on the market since 2021, is only administered to children on the African continent, and not to adults and Europeans, as they are not the most at risk.

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41° fever

In the event of a bite by a carrier mosquito, the incubation period is seven days on average: “it starts with a stomach upset and a temperature, and when the attack happens seven days later, the fever reaches 40 or even 41° (roughly 105°F). Other symptoms include headaches, body aches and diarrhoea. When the fever drops, the patient sweats profusely, and then the fever returns… The cycle lasts 72 or 96 hours, depending on the species of plasmodium,” says Dr Olivia Keïta-Perse.

To cope with these symptoms and avoid complications, there is a treatment in tablet or intravenous form, but there is also a preventive treatment, to be taken during a trip to a high-risk destination. However, the best thing is to avoid being bitten in the first place! How? “By sleeping under a mosquito net, because mosquitoes bite after dark, and by using skin repellents,” recommends the doctor, advising against the use of bracelets or vitamins, which are not very effective.

Finally, although we often hear that mosquitoes are particularly attracted to sweet blood, “this is an old wives’ tale,” says the doctor in charge of the traveller consultation unit at the CHPG, before giving us a final tip: “Europeans going on holiday won’t die of malaria, but the attack is brutal. You shouldn’t think you’re stronger than the disease, and above all, you must use common sense!”


Since 2021, a total of eight cases of malaria have been treated at the CHPG:

  • All adults, contaminated in Africa
  • Four were admitted
  • Four were seen by a doctor specialising in tropical diseases
  • Three were Monegasque residents