What is taxi malaria?

Posted on 7 April 2022

You probably think malaria is something you shouldn’t have to worry about unless you’re travelling to or live in areas where it’s endemic. But that’s not true.

Malaria is a disease transmitted by parasite-bearing female Anopheles mosquitoes that’s rife in north-eastern KZN, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. But recent headlines suggest you could you be at risk in urban areas too.

The reason for this, explains Dr Delene Brink, a clinical microbiologist for Pathcare at Mediclinic George, is because mosquitoes don’t necessarily stay in one place. “Like other cases of malaria, taxi malaria – also called Odyssean or airport malaria – is caused by mosquitoes carrying the malaria parasite. However, in these cases, the mosquitoes have unfortunately hitched a ride on a vehicle travelling out of the malaria area. This means you can get sick, even if you haven’t been near a zone that would typically put you at risk.”

As with any other malaria infection, taxi malaria begins with non-specific symptoms, such as fever, chills, headaches, fatigue and muscle pain. The problem, of course, is that these symptoms present in a range of illnesses and conditions, from COVID-19 to flu. This means few people think of mentioning the possibility of taxi malaria to their healthcare provider, and won’t be tested for the disease. That’s unfortunate, since Dr Brink points out that if diagnosed early, malaria can be treated with oral medication. If untreated, it can progress to become a severe and life-threatening illness.

The good news is that taxi malaria is very rare, Dr Brink says, and just 72 cases were recorded in South Africa between 2007-17.

If you’re still worried, she says it’s a good idea to discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider. Explain fully how you’re feeling and tell your doctor about your recent travel history.

“While the risk of taxi malaria is very rare, and therefore doesn’t need much in terms of preventative strategies, malaria itself carries a much higher risk if you’ve been to a malaria area – especially if you haven’t taken oral prophylaxis,” Dr Brink cautions. “If you’re planning a trip to one of these areas, consult your healthcare provider about the most appropriate regimen for you.”

Obviously, it’s best to avoid getting bitten in the first place and you can take simple preventative measures, such as:

  • applying insect repellent liberally and often
  • wearing long-sleeved clothes and trousers when outdoors – especially between dawn and dusk
  • using a fan and mosquito net when you sleep.

Finally, if you develop non-specific flu-like illness after having visited a malaria area, speak to your healthcare provider – a simple test with a blood sample will confirm the diagnosis.


  • It’s World Malaria Day on 25 April.

Published in Prime

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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