Malaria is a life-threatening disease that is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. Infected mosquitoes carry the Plasmodium parasite, and when this mosquito bites you, the parasite is released into your bloodstream.
Once the parasites are inside your body, they travel to the liver, where they mature, then enter the bloodstream and begin to infect red blood cells.
Within 2 to 4 days, the parasites inside the red blood cells multiply, causing the infected cells to burst open, resulting in symptoms that occur in cycles that last two to three days at a time.
Malaria is typically found in tropical and subtropical climates where the parasites can survive. As per information from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2016, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 91 countries.
In the United States, Malaria was eliminated in the early 1950s, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 1,700 cases of malaria annually. Most cases of malaria develop in people who travel to countries where malaria is more prevalent.
Over 100 types of Plasmodium parasite can infect a variety of species, but five types of Plasmodium parasite can infect humans. They are found in different parts of the world, and some cause a more severe type of malaria than others.
Causes Of Malaria
Malaria can occur if a carrier mosquito infected with the Plasmodium parasite bites you. There are four kinds of malaria parasites that can infect humans:
- Plasmodium vivax,
- p. ovale,
- p. malariae, and
- p. falciparum.
falciparum causes a more severe form of the disease and those who contract this form of malaria have a higher risk of passing away. An infected mother can also pass the disease to her baby at birth, and this is known as congenital malaria.
Malaria is transmitted by blood, but can also be transmitted through an organ transplant, a transfusion, and the use of shared needles or syringes
Symptoms of Malaria
The symptoms of malaria typically develop within 10 days to a month following the infection. In some circumstances, symptoms may not develop for several months.
Some malarial parasites can be dormant for long periods of time.
Common symptoms of malaria include:
- shaking chills that can be moderate or severe
- bloody stools
- high fever
- profuse sweating
- a headache
- abdominal pain
- muscle pain
- convulsions, and
Complications Of Malaria
Malaria can cause a number of life-threatening complications, like:
- swelling of the blood vessels of the brain (cerebral malaria)
- an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that may result in breathing problems (pulmonary edema)
- organ failure that may affect the kidneys, liver, or spleen
- anemia due to the destruction of red blood cells, and
- low blood sugar
Malaria can be a life-threatening condition, especially if you’re infected with the parasite P. falciparum, and treatment for the disease is typically provided in a clinic or hospital.
Your doctor will prescribe medications based on the type of parasite that you have, and the symptoms you are showing.
In some instances, the medication prescribed may not clear the infection because of some parasite’s resistance to drugs. If this occurs, your doctor may need to change medications altogether to treat your condition.
Moreover, certain types of malaria parasites, such as P. vivax and P. ovale, have liver stages where the parasite can live in your body for an extended period of time and reactivate at a later date causing a relapse of the infection.
If you have one of these types of malaria parasites, you’ll be given a second medication to prevent a relapse in the future.
Read: Medications for Malaria
Prevention Of Malaria
There’s no vaccine available to prevent malaria, but you should talk to your doctor if you’re traveling to an area where malaria is common or if you live in such an area, in order to prescribe medications to prevent the disease.
These medications are the same as those used to treat the disease.
You can as well follow some practices in order to prevent the disease:
- Sleeping under a mosquito net may help prevent being bitten by an infected mosquito.
- Covering your skin or using bug sprays containing DEET may also help.
Research to develop safe and effective global vaccines for malaria is ongoing, with one vaccine already licensed for use in Europe.
It is essential to seek medical attention for suspected symptoms of malaria as early as possible, and if you’re unsure if malaria is prevalent in your area, the CDC has an up-to-date map of where malaria can be found.
Travelers are advised to:
- find out what the risk of malaria is in the region they are visiting
- ask their doctor what medications they should use to prevent malaria infection in that region
- obtain antimalarial drugs before leaving home, to avoid the risk of buying counterfeit drugs
- Ensure they will have access to preventative tools, that include insect repellants, insecticides, pre-treated bed nets, and appropriate clothing
- Finally, ensure that you are aware of the symptoms of malaria