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BACKGROUND: Imported malaria is an increasing problem, particularly among new immigrant populations. The objective of this study was to determine the malaria prevention measures used by Canadians originating from a malaria-endemic area when returning to visit their country of origin. METHODS: A 35-item English-language questionnaire was administered by interview to travellers at a departure lounge at Pearson International Airport, Toronto, between January and June 1995. Information was collected on subject characteristics, travel itinerary, perceptions about malaria, and pretravel health advice and malaria chemoprophylaxis and barriers to their use. RESULTS: A total of 324 travellers departing on flights to India were approached, of whom 307 (95%) agreed to participate in the study. Participants were Canadian residents of south Asian origin with a mean duration of residence in Canada of 12.8 years. Most of the respondents were returning to visit relatives for a mean visit duration of 6.8 weeks. Although 69% of the respondents thought malaria was a moderate to severe illness and 54% had sought advice before travelling, only 31% intended to use any chemoprophylaxis, and less than 10% were using measures to prevent mosquito bites. Only 7% had been prescribed a recommended drug regimen. Family practitioners were the primary source of information for travellers and were more likely to prescribe an inappropriate chemoprophylactic regimen than were travel clinics or public health centres (76% v. 36%) (p = 0.003). Respondents who had lived in Canada longest and those with a family history of malaria were more likely to use chemoprophylaxis (p < 0.01). INTERPRETATION: Few travellers were using appropriate chemoprophylaxis and mosquito prevention measures. Misconceptions about malaria risk and appropriate prevention measures were the main barriers identified.