What is it

Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito that feeds on humans.1 People with malaria often experience high fevers, shaking chills and flu-like symptoms. Although malaria can be a fatal disease, severe illness and death can usually be prevented with early and prompt treatment.1 The vast majority of cases of malaria are in travelers and immigrants returning from countries where malaria transmission occurs.1

Who is at risk

All travelers to areas where malaria occurs are at risk. Malaria is transmitted in tropical and subtropical areas. In many malaria-endemic countries, malaria transmission does not occur in all parts of the country. The highest transmission is found in Africa South of the Sahara and in parts of Oceania such as Papua New Guinea.2

People who previously lived in an area where malaria occurs will lose any natural immunity they may have to the disease once they move away. They will be at the same risk as any other visitor if they later travel to an area where malaria occurs.3

Your risk of getting malaria increases if your travel includes:3

  • Visiting higher at-risk regions including West Africa and Oceania
  • Longer periods of travel
  • Visiting rural or remote areas
  • Traveling during rainy seasons (during or after)
  • Outdoor exposure between sunset and sunrise
  • Visiting areas with high malaria death rate

Some people are the most at risk of serious illness and complications, including:3

  • Pregnant women
  • Young children
  • People with weakened immune system

What are the symptoms

Symptoms typically appear within 1 to 4 weeks but may take up to a year to develop.4 Depending on the type of malaria parasite and previous existing health conditions of the individual, different time periods may occur.4

Initial symptoms of malaria are similar to those of the flu, which include:4

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Sweats or chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle and stomach pain

Malaria may progress to severe illness and may be fatal if not treated. Complications of severe cases include:4

  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory failure
  • Renal failure, also known as Blackwater fever

How is it spread

Malaria is caused by a parasite that belongs to the Plasmodium group of parasites. There are 5 different kinds of parasites in this group that can cause Malaria.5

Malaria is transmitted through the bite of a female mosquito infected with malaria parasites. This type of mosquito bites from sunset to sunrise.5

In rare cases, transmission can also occur through:5

  • Mother to fetus
  • Blood transfusion
  • The sharing of contaminated needles

How is it prevented

There is currently no vaccine to prevent malaria. Consult your healthcare provider or visit a travel clinic 6 weeks prior to your travel to discuss whether anti-malarial medication may be appropriate for you. Anti-malarial drugs must be taken before, during and after your travels to help prevent malaria.6
Travelers can prevent malaria by protecting against mosquito bites with a combination of the following methods, particularly from sunset to sunrise:6

  • Use air conditioning, window/door screens or a mosquito bed net to protect yourself from mosquitoes inside your home or hotel.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when weather permits
  • Use of insect repellents that contains DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or para-menthane-diol for long lasting protection
  • Reducing the number of mosquitoes outside your home or hotel room by emptying standing water from flowerpots or buckets

How is it treated

If you have symptoms of malaria, you should see a medical professional immediately. Even if you have taken medication to prevent malaria infection during your trip, you may not have been completely protected. Symptoms can happen during your trip or up to a year after you return home.1

Malaria can be treated with anti-malarial medications; treatment varies depending on the type of malaria parasite and the severity of the infection. Almost all cases can be completely cured if the infection is identified early and treated.7


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Malaria
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Malaria. About Malaria.
  3. Government of Canada. Symptoms of Malaria
  4. Government of Canada. Causes of Malaria
  5. Government of Canada. Prevention of Malaria
  6. Government of Canada. Treatment of Malaria