Antimalarial medication is used to prevent and treat malaria.
You should always consider taking antimalarial medicine when travelling to areas where there's a risk of malaria. Visit your GP or local travel clinic for malaria advice as soon as you know when and where you're going to be travelling.
It's very important to take the correct dose and finish the course of antimalarial treatment. If you're unsure, ask your GP or pharmacist how long you should take your medication for.
It's usually recommended you take antimalarial tablets if you're visiting an area where there's a malaria risk as they can reduce your risk of malaria by about 90%.
The type of antimalarial tablets you will be prescribed is based on the following information:
You may need to take a short trial course of antimalarial tablets before travelling. This is to check that you don't have an adverse reaction or side effects. If you do, alternative antimalarials can be prescribed before you leave.
Types of antimalarial medication
The main types of antimalarials used to prevent malaria are described below.
Atovaquone plus proguanil
Doxycycline (also known as Vibramycin-D)
Mefloquine (also known as Lariam)
Chloroquine and proguanil
A combination of antimalarial medications called chloroquine and proguanil is also available, although these are rarely recommended nowadays because they're largely ineffective against the most common and dangerous type of malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.
However, chloroquine and proguanil may occasionally be recommended for certain destinations where the Plasmodium falciparum parasite is less common than other types, such as India and Sri Lanka.
If malaria is diagnosed and treated promptly, a full recovery can be expected. Treatment should be started as soon as a blood test confirms malaria.
Many of the same antimalarial medicines used to prevent malaria can also be used to treat the disease. However, if you've taken an antimalarial to prevent malaria, you shouldn't take the same one to treat it. This means it's important to tell your doctor the name of the antimalarials you took.
The type of antimalarial medicine and how long you need to take it will depend on:
Your doctor may recommend using a combination of different antimalarials to overcome strains of malaria that have become resistant to single types of medication.
Antimalarial medication is usually given as tablets or capsules. If someone is very ill, it will be given through a drip into a vein in the arm (intravenously) in hospital.
Treatment for malaria can leave you feeling very tired and weak for several weeks.
Emergency standby treatment
In some cases, you may be prescribed emergency standby treatment for malaria before you travel. This is usually if there's a risk of you becoming infected with malaria while travelling in a remote area with little or no access to medical care.
Examples of emergency standby medications include:
Your GP may decide to seek advice from a travel health specialist before prescribing standby emergency treatment.
Read more about standby emergency treatment for malaria.
Antimalarials in pregnancy
If you're pregnant, it's advisable to avoid travelling to areas where there's a risk of malaria.
Pregnant women have an increased risk of developing severe malaria, and both the baby and mother could experience serious complications.
It's very important to take the right antimalarial medicine if you're pregnant and unable to postpone or cancel your trip to an area where there's a malaria risk.
Some of the antimalarials used to prevent and treat malaria are unsuitable for pregnant women because they can cause side effects for both mother and baby.
The list below outlines which medications are safe or unsafe to use while pregnant:
Chloroquine combined with proguanil is suitable during pregnancy, but it is rarely used as it's not very effective against the most common and dangerous type of malaria parasite.