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Trends in imported childhood malaria in the UK:1999–2003


Objective: To describe the epidemiology of imported malaria in children in the UK.

Methods: Surveillance data on children with imported malaria, collected through an enhanced surveillance network set up by the Malaria Reference Laboratory (London, UK), diagnosed between January 1999 and December 2003 were analysed.

Results: Over the 5-year study period, 9238 cases were reported to the Malaria Reference Laboratory, and children accounted for 1456 (14.8%) cases. The number of imported paediatric malaria cases fell from 326 in 1999 to 241 in 2003. Malarial infection occurred in children of all ages and the number of patients increased gradually with age. Visiting family and relatives was the most common reason for travel (59.5%), with only 7.2% travelling to an area endemic to malaria on holiday. Most infections (88.4%) were acquired in Africa, and mainly in Nigeria (49.7%). Plasmodium falciparum was responsible for 81.7% of all cases, followed by P vivax (11.1%). The number of both P falciparum and P vivax cases fell gradually from 262 and 45 cases in 1999 to 196 and 20 cases in 2003, respectively. Malaria prophylaxis was taken by 39% of 500 children with malaria who had travelled to a country endemic to malaria. The proportion of children with malaria who had taken malaria prophylaxis decreased steadily from 53% in 1999 to 29% in 2003. Two (0.14%) children died compared with 62 (0.76%) adults over the 5-year study period (p = 0.007).

Conclusions: Although the incidence of malaria has started to decline, a considerable number of children are still diagnosed with malaria in the UK. In addition, the proportion of children with malaria who had taken malaria prophylaxis is falling. Although it is reassuring to note the low mortality, there is an urgent need to improve preventive measures among families travelling to high-risk countries.

  • MRL, Malaria Reference Laboratory

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