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Epilepsy and anti-malarial medication15 EPILEPSY AND ANTI-
The risk of contracting malaria is high when travelling to some parts of the world, and preventative (or “prophylactic”) medicines are normally recommended to protect the traveller from contracting the infection. It should be noted, however, that these medicines are not 100% effective, and it is important that measures be taken to avoid being bitten: Wear long-sleeved clothing and long trousers when outdoors after sunset. Light colours are less attractive to mosquitoes. Use insect repellents on exposed skin. Many brands are available. Sleep if possible in screened rooms, using a fly-spray to kill any mosquitoes that may have entered the room during the day. Electric vapourisers should be used throughout the night. Where the room is not air-conditioned, permethrin-impregnated mosquito nets provide the best protection. Check that there are no holes. Tuck the net under the mattress.
These measures are particularly important in people who have epilepsy, or
have a history of epilepsy, because particular problems can occur when taking
anti-malarial and anti-epileptic tablets together.
Proguanil (Paludrine®) should be taken only when travelling to areas where
the malarial parasite is not resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine.
This medicine can be obtained directly from your local pharmacy without a
doctor’s prescription and the adult dose is 200 milligrams (mg) daily. It should
be started one week before arriving in the country where the risk of malaria
exists and continued for FOUR weeks after leaving the malarious area.
In areas where chloroquine resistance occurs, Malarone® (a combination of
proguanil and atovaquone) is recommended. This medication requires a
doctor’s prescription and the adult dose should be started two days before
arriving in the country where the risk of malaria exists, then daily while in the
malarious area and continue for ONE week after leaving the malarious area.
doxycycline (Vibramycin®) is also recommended. This
requires a doctor’s prescription. The adult dose of 100mg should be started one week before arriving in the country where the risk of malaria exists, taken daily while in the malarious area and continued for FOUR weeks after leaving the malarious area. The anti-epileptic drugs carbamazepine (Tegretol®), phenytoin (Epanutin®) and
phenobarbitone cause doxycycline to be destroyed in the body more quickly than
usual, and can reduce the effectiveness of this anti-malarial medicine. A higher-than-
normal dose of doxycycline may therefore be needed if you are taking any of these
anti-epileptic drugs. Although there are currently no official guidelines available on
how much the dose should be increased, research suggests that twice the normal
dose, namely 100mg twice daily, should be sufficient. If you are on an anti-epileptic
drug other than carbamazepine, phenytoin or phenobarbitone, the normal dose of
doxycycline should be taken, namely 100mg once daily.
Maloprim® (a combination of pyrimethamine and dapsone) is available for use
when chloroquine resistance is high, but specialist advice is needed before this is
used; your GP can obtain advice from telephone numbers given in the British
National Formulary. A vitamin supplement, folic acid 5mg daily, should be taken
together with the Maloprim® if you are also on phenytoin or phenobarbitone.
Other anti-malarial drugs are chloroquine (contained in Avloclor® and Nivaquine®)
and mefloquine (Lariam®). Chloroquine is a widely used preventative treatment, but
mefloquine is often advised when travelling to countries where the malaria parasite is
resistant to chloroquine. People with epilepsy or with a past history of epilepsy
should not take either of these medicines because they can cause seizures.
Fortunately, however, these two drugs are no longer recommended as drugs of first
choice in the prophylaxis of malaria because the medicines mentioned above have
now been shown to be more effective and less likely to cause side effects.
If you are in any doubt, you should discuss these problems with your GP - please
show them this leaflet so that they know what advice we have given you.
Additional note for GPs: The Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London strongly
recommends that advice is sought from a Malaria Reference Centre before
prescribing prophylaxis for people with epilepsy, particularly if they are
travelling to an area of high risk and marked chloroquine resistance.
Telephone numbers are given in the British National Formulary.
Text compiled by Epilepsy Research UK. Last updated January 2008. Epilepsy Research UK promotes and supports basic and clinical scientific research into the causes, treatment and prevention of epilepsy. The research it supports is entirely funded by donations. A contribution would be greatly appreciated. Epilepsy Research UK
Registered charity No. 1100394. Company limited by guarantee (No. 4873718 – England). This is the fifteenth in a series of eighteen downloadable leaflets produced by Epilepsy Research UK.
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