Can I take chloroquine to prevent malaria?
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Chloroquine is an antimalarial which was once widely used to prevent infection with the parasite. Does it work? Is it safe and who can take it? Find out whether or not you can use chloroquine to prevent malaria.
What is chloroquine?
Chloroquine is an antimalarial. It is used to prevent malaria and it is also used as a treatment for acute malaria. Chloroquine is sometimes used in combination with other antimalarials, such as proguanil.
Does chloroquine protect against malaria?
Although chloroquine is an antimalarial, it is often not sufficient for prophylaxis. Chloroquine used to be the antimalarial of choice and it was widely used for from 1947 onwards. As a result, the malaria parasites endemic to certain regions developed a resistance to chloroquine. Resistance to chloroquine was observed as early as the 1950s.
Today, it is not recommended as a preventative treatment in regions where the falciparum parasite is prevalent. It can still be used to protect against the malaria parasites plasmodium vivax, plasmodium ovale and plasmodium malariae.
Who can use chloroquine tablets?
Whether chloroquine tablets will keep you safe during your trip depends on where you are going. If you are travelling to an area where you are at risk of the falciparum parasite, you can’t use chloroquine. You will need to use a newer antimalarial such as Malarone instead.
This includes many regions in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and Asia. Before you choose to use chloroquine, you should consult a doctor or travel health expert to ensure that chloroquine will protect you.
Its effectiveness against malaria aside, chloroquine is not suitable for everyone.
You cannot take it if you are allergic to any of the ingredients or if you are currently taking a medication called amiodarone which is used to control your heart rate.
Talk to a doctor or pharmacist before taking chloroquine if you:
- suffer from epilepsy
- have a liver problem
- have a family history of porphyria or suffer from it
- have psoriasis
- suffer from a condition which affects your muscles
- have a blood problem called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency
If you are currently taking any other medication it is also important that you ask a doctor or pharmacist whether you can combine it with chloroquine. The same applies if you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breastfeeding.
Can you buy chloroquine over the counter?Chloroquine is an over the counter medicine, so you don’t need to see a doctor for a prescription in order to be able to buy it. However, it is important that you make sure that it will protect you from the malaria parasites endemic to the region you are travelling to.
How to take chloroquine
When you take chloroquine to prevent malaria, you need to start your treatment one week before you enter a malaria risk area. You need to continue your treatment throughout your stay and until four weeks after your return from a malaria area.
You need to take 500mg of chloroquine once a week. You should have the tablets after a meal and swallow them whole with a drink of water.
Which side effects does it cause?
Chloroquine can cause side effects in some patients.
Possible side effects include:
- allergic reactions
- stomach problems - such as nausea and vomiting or diarrhoea
- headache or dizziness
- skin rash
- visual disturbances
- changes in your heart rate
For a full list of all risk and side effects associated with chloroquine read the patient information leaflet.