Safety of antimalarial medications for use while scuba diving in malaria Endemic Regions

Kyle Petersen*, David P. Regis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Recreational diving occurs annually in areas of the world where malaria is endemic. The safety and efficacy of antimalarials for travelers in a hyperbaric environment is unknown. Of particular concern would be medications with adverse effects that could either mimic diving related illnesses such as barotrauma, decompression sickness (DCS) and gas toxicities, or increase the risk for such illnesses. Methods: We conducted a review of PubMed and Cochrane databases to determine rates of neurologic adverse effects or other effects from antimalarials that may be a problem in the diving environment. Results: One case report was found on diving and mefloquine. Multiple case reports and clinical trials were found describing neurologic adverse effects of the major chemoprophylactic medications atovaquone/proguanil, chloroquine, doxycycline, mefloquine, and primaquine. Conclusions: Of the available literature, atovaquone/proguanil and doxycycline are most likely the safest agents and should be preferred; atovaquone/proguanil is superior due to reduced rates of sunburn in the marine environment. Primaquine also appears to be safe, but has reduced efficacy against P. falciparum; mefloquine possesses the highest rate of neurologic side effects and therefore these agents should be limited to extreme cases of patients intolerant to other agents. Chloroquine appears unsafe in the hyperbaric environment and should be avoided. More studies are required to include database reviews of returned divers traveling to malaria endemic areas and randomized controlled trials in the hyperbaric environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalTropical Diseases, Travel Medicine and Vaccines
Issue number1
StatePublished - 11 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Chemoprophylaxis
  • Diving
  • Malaria
  • Prophylaxis
  • SCUBA diving


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