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How Effective Is Chloroquine for Malaria?

By B. Chisholm
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chloroquine for malaria is only used as prophylaxis and treatment of certain types of malaria found in a small number of areas where chloroquine-resistance has not yet occurred. It is not used to prevent or treat Plasmodium falciparum malaria, as resistance to this drug in this strain of malaria is widespread. Before going to a malarial area, it is vital for travelers to seek professional medical advice as to which prophylaxis and treatment are most suitable for that country. If not treated correctly, the disease is potentially fatal.

Malaria is a tropical disease, carried by the Anopheles mosquito, that is endemic to specific areas in the world. There are four main species of malaria: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale and P. malariae. Each of these has specific areas of occurrence and may differ slightly in their onset, symptoms, and management. P. falciparum is the most dangerous of these, and using chloroquine to treat malaria caused by this species is not recommended.

The symptoms of malaria can be relatively non-specific and resemble the flu. Fever, headache, general body pains and chills may occur, often spiking in the evenings. A person who has been to a malaria area who experiences any signs of illness should be seen by a medical professional immediately, who should be informed of the fact that they have recently visited a place where malaria is endemic. Falciparum malaria can develop rapidly into a life-threatening disease.

Malaria prophylaxis, or preventative medication, is recommended when traveling to a malarial area. The choice of which drug to use will be made by the prescribing medical professional, taking into consideration whether there is chloroquine-resistance in the area, the clinical picture of the patient, other medications he or she may be on, and other factors. Malaria resistance patterns may change from year to year, so updated information should always be sought.

Chloroquine for malaria prophylaxis is used in the very few places where P. falciparum is not endemic, due to spreading resistance. When used for prophylaxis, it is taken as a weekly dose starting at least a week before entering the area, for the whole time while there, and for four weeks after leaving the area. If someone has the disease, this drug is only used to treat chloroquine-sensitive, non-falciparum malaria and is usually given as a three day course.

As with any medication, chloroquine for malaria prophylaxis or treatment may interact with other medications and cause adverse effects. These should all be discussed with the prescribing or treating healthcare professional. It is essential that any signs or symptoms of illness during or after visiting an area where the disease is common should be treated as a medical emergency.

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