Holidaymakers planning trips to the tropics are warned today to avoid homoeopathic remedies that are claimed to prevent malaria after several UK travellers contracted the potentially fatal disease.
An investigation by the charity Sense about Science found ten homoeopathic clinics selected at random on the internet offered a researcher unproven homoeopathic products which were claimed to prevent malaria and other tropical diseases including typhoid, dengue fever and yellow fever.
In all ten consultations the researcher was advised to use the products rather than being referred to a GP or travel medicine clinic where orthodox anti-malarial drugs are available.
Tropical medicine specialists yesterday condemned the practice.
The UK Health Protection Agency warned last year that travellers from Britain had fallen ill with malaria after taking homoeopathic pills claimed to prevent it.
Professor Nicholas White of the University of Oxford said: "This is very dangerous nonsense and needs to be stopped. The prescribing of homoeopathic remedies to prevent malaria is a reprehensible example of potentially lethal duplicity."
Ron Behrens, director of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases Travel Clinic, said: "The misleading travel advice being given by homoeopaths is not a trivial problem. We have treated people at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases who thought they were protected by homoeopathic medicines and contracted malaria. The messages given by some homoeopaths are inaccurate, counter productive and place lives at risk."
The highest risk from malaria is to travellers to sub-Saharan Africa where the most serious form of the disease - caused by the plasmodium falciparaum parasite - accounts for 90 per cent of cases.
The disease can strike quickly and kill within two or three days of first symptoms.
Specialists said the first defence was to avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent and mosquito nets but the homoeopaths in the survey neglected that advice.
Although conventional anti-malarial drugs had some side effects, they provided excellent protection.
Professor Brian Greenwood, president of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine, said: "These decisions require discussion with a knowledgeable person who can assess the risks and benefits. The use of homoeopathy creates a more dangerous situation than taking no precautions if the traveller assumes that they are protected and does not seek help quickly for any illness that might be malaria."
The Faculty of Homoeopathy said yesterday it did not recommend homoeopathic remedies for the prevention of malaria.
Peter Fisher, clinical director of the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital said: "Malaria is a life threatening disease and there is no published evidence to support the use of homoeopathy in the prevention of malaria."