Travel health

Cheryl Cole has malaria

Cheryl Cole has malaria Infected during visit to Tanzania

The X Factor judge Cheryl Cole is being treated in hospital for the life-threatening tropical disease malaria, it has been reported.

The 27 year old singer collapsed during a photoshoot over the weekend, and it was thought she was was suffering from exhustion. After this her condition worsened, a friend told the Daily Mail. By Sunday she was "sweating and shaking and in a bad way," they said.

The star may have caught the disease when she visited the East African country of Tanzania last month.

What is malaria?

Malaria is one of the most deadly infectious diseases on the planet. It is caused by a parasite called plasmodium, which is transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitoes.

Each year, around 1,700 people return to the UK with malaria, and ten or so die as a result. The parasites are carried by the female Anopheles mosquito and are passed on to humans when it feeds on human blood.

It only takes 30 minutes for the parasites to infect the liver after being bitten by a malaria infected mosquito. They then quickly reproduce in the liver. Some of the parasites emerge and enter the bloodstream where they infect the red blood cells and other parts of the body, including the brain.


Typical symptoms of malaria are usually fever, headache and muscle pain. These can appear within a week to several months after being bitten. Coughing and diarrhoea may also occur.

Anyone who falls ill within a year of visiting a malaria endemic area of the world should report this to their GP.


Anti-malarial drugs which are taken before going on holiday, are 90 - 100 per cent effective in preventing the disease. Medication and avoiding being bitten is the best way to protect yourself from being infected.

Most cases of malaria occur due to:

  • Not taking any anti-malarial medication
  • Not taking the anti-malarials as instructed

Once back in the UK, people may think it safe to stop taking their anti-malarial drugs. However, the parasite can be hidden in red blood cells or other parts of the body waiting to emerge. So you must follow the instructions of your own type of anti-malarial medication.

Even if you are visiting a country for one or two days, you must take your anti-malarials. A single bite from a malaria infected mosquito is all that is needed to transmit the disease.

No-one is immune to malaria. This includes people who were been born in regions where malaria is rampant. That's why the parasite kills more than one million people worldwide every year.

Avoid being bitten

The first line of defence against malaria and other diseases transmitted by insects is to avoid being bitten. For other tropical infectious diseases, it is the only means of defence.

  • Wear loose clothing which covers arms and legs, especially at the times insects are most active
  • Use an insect repellent containing between 30- 50 per cent DEET on exposed skin to stave off mosquitoes (as well as ticks, fleas etc)
  • Towelling wrist and ankle bands impregnated with DEET are also useful
  • Reapply insect repellents after swimming or sweating heavily
  • Clothing can be sprayed with permethrin, not suitable for skin
  • Use a knock down insect repellent or plug-in vapouriser indoors. Most malaria carrying mosquitoes bite between dusk and dawn.
  • Avoid perfumes and aftershave as these often attract insects
  • Apply sunscreen first followed by repellent
  • If walking in long grassy areas, wear long trousers tucked into boots or shoes to avoid tick bites. Don't wear sandals.

DEET-containing insect repellants are not suitable for children under the age of two months. Cover babies with mosquito netting instead.

Travel clinics

Before travelling to hot climates, it is important to consult your GP or visit a travel clinic. They can inform you what anti-malarial medication you need for the country and area you are visiting.

This article was published on Tue 6 July 2010

Image © Yaroslav Gnatuk -

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