Malaria affects about 229 million people each year and 409,000 people lose their lives to this disease yearly.
It is caused by a parasite transmitted to the human body through mosquito bites.
It is more common in tropical and subtropical countries.
If you live or plan to visit subtropical countries, be careful of contracting malaria.
This article covers the symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention of Malaria.
Keep reading to find out how you can protect yourself from contracting it.
What is Malaria?
Malarial transmission occurs through the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito.
The mosquito carries the Plasmodium parasite that infects the person with Malaria.
Two parasite species, P. falciparum and P. vivax are behind most of the malaria cases in humans.
Plasmodium falciparum accounts for 99.7 percent of cases in Sub Saharan Africa.
Moreover, Plasmodium vivax accounts for 75 percent of cases in the Region of the Americas and the United States.
A female Anopheles mosquito bites a person infected with malaria.
She carries the Plasmodium parasite from the person and bites another person, hence transmitting the parasite.
Once inside the body, the parasites make their way to your liver.
Inside your liver, they can remain dormant for up to a year.
The parasites leave the liver after maturing. Then they infect the red blood cells.
Within 2 to 3 days, the parasite multiplies in the cells. This causes the red blood cells to burst.
Symptoms of malaria start appearing in cycles. These symptoms last for 2 to 3 days and the cycle repeats.
If a female Anopheles mosquito bites you at this time, it can spread the parasite to another human.
However, people can also get malaria from infected blood. This is because this disease affects red blood cells.
A mother can pass on malaria to her unborn child.
Blood transfusion and sharing syringes and needles for drugs can also cause malaria.
You are more at risk of getting malaria if you live in a tropical or subtropical region or are visiting one.
The parasite that causes serious complications is prevalent in Africa, the Asian subcontinent, New Guinea and Haiti.
Children under 5 years old are most vulnerable.
67 percent of deaths by malaria were that of young children and infants.
Pregnant women are also at a greater risk because the mother can transfer it to their unborn child.
The elderly and people traveling from areas with no malaria are also vulnerable.
Moreover, socio-economic conditions, lack of knowledge and inadequate healthcare also contribute to malarial deaths.
You may develop a partial immunity if you live in a place with constant exposure to the disease.
This way, you may have less severe symptoms. However, this immunity will go away as soon as you shift to a place with less frequent cases.
Most people will see signs and symptoms by 10 to 14 days of infection.
However, some may not experience them for months.
Sometimes the parasite remains dormant in the liver for a year too.
The typical symptoms include:
- muscle pain
- shivering and chills
- abdominal pain or chest pain
- blood in stools
People may experience cycles of symptoms.
These cycles are called malaria attacks.
You may get severe chills and shiver, later your temperature right increase indicating high fever, sweating follows to cool you down and return to normal temperature.
Malaria is life-threatening.
Severe complications may develop. Such as organ failure. It can fail your liver and kidney and rupture your spleen.
Parasite infected blood cells can block the blood vessels leading to the brain.
This causes cerebral malaria which swells the brain, causes seizures and may even result in brain damage and coma.
It can also cause anemia as it destroys red blood cells.
Moreover, a fluid might accumulate in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult.
Furthermore, malaria causes blood glucose levels to drop. The medications to combat it also decrease sugar levels.
Low blood glucose level can lead you to coma or even death.
Diagnosis of Malaria
Your doctor will take your travel and medical history.
Malaria will be diagnosed by a blood test.
They are the only sure way to test for malaria hence you will need a medical diagnosis and medical advice.
Blood tests show parasite presence in the blood.
They help determine the exact type of parasite and type of malaria that causes the disease.
Moreover, if this parasite is already resistant to certain medications.
Furthermore, blood tests can check if malaria has already damaged other organs and caused diseases like anemia.
Your doctor will also check if you have an enlarged spleen or liver.
The treatment and the time it requires depends on the type of parasite.
The seriousness of the disease, your age and pregnancy will determine the prescription drugs.
You will likely get the treatment in a hospital.
The types of P.vivax and P.ovale can stay dormant in the liver for a long time. They can reactivate at a later time and cause a relapse.
In order to treat malaria effectively, your doctor will use a combination of more than one drug, especially to clear the dormant parasites.
Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are the first treatment given to patients.
Artemisinin-based combination therapies are a combination of drugs, mostly more than two that work against the parasite in their own different ways.
Artemether-lumefantrine and artesunate-amodiaquine are a type of Artemisinin-based combination therapies.
Chloroquine phosphate used to be an effective drug against the parasite. However, malaria affects a lot of people which means that parasites quickly become resistant to drugs.
Therefore, chloroquine is no longer effective against the parasite.
There are other widely used antimalarial drugs like Mefloquine, atovaquone and proguanil combination, Qualaquin with doxycycline and Primaquine phosphate.
There is ongoing research on antimalarial drugs.
A variety of parasites is even resistant to all the antimalarial drugs available.
Therefore, it is a continual process of finding new drug formulations against the constantly going drug-resistant parasites.
If you are traveling to places where malaria is prevalent, you can take certain steps to protect yourself.
Moreover, if you live in a place with malaria is common then you should also regularly implement these steps to avoid mosquito bites.
Preventing Mosquito Bite
Mosquitos usually bite from dusk to dawn.
The steps include placing a mosquito net over your bed while sleeping. These mosquito nets have very small holes that do not let mosquitoes to enter in.
Moreover, insecticides are also applied to these bed nets. This helps further repelling the mosquitoes.
Do not sleep without a bed net because it will be very easy for a female Anopheles mosquito to bite you otherwise.
If you are in a tropical or subtropical country, pay special attention to what you wear.
You should cover your skin, wear full-sleeved shirts and pants or trousers rather than skirts and shorts.
Furthermore, apply insect repellants on your clothes and skin.
Insect repellants with DEET are safe to use on the skin and those with permethrin can be applied to clothes.
These insect repellants usually have strong smells that help keep mosquitoes away.
If you plan to travel, you should consult your doctor beforehand if you need to eat any medicines beforehand or if you want to take them along.
Unlike typhoid, malaria does not have an effective vaccine. Therefore, you cannot get a permanent solution to malaria.
The only vaccine available is Mosquirix. It is applied 4 times through an injection but it is not considered to be that effective.
This is why malaria can recur and the parasite species can remain dormant in your liver, later causing relapses.
These parasite species cause only mild symptoms but are responsible for relapses.
Therefore, if you have had malaria before, you should consult your doctor about taking medication along with you.
The drugs used to prevent malaria are the same that treat malaria.
You will have to thoroughly tell your doctor about the place you plan to visit and at what time of the year.
This will help your doctor assess the risks and chances of you getting the infection.
Moreover, it will also help them determine the medicine or the combination of medications required to treat the type of parasite more prevalent in that region.
Long term prevention is only possible through the use of bed nets, insect repellants in the form of lotion and spray and covering skin.
If you live in a place with frequent cases of malaria, it is possible that you may have milder symptoms.
However, you should protect yourself from mosquito bites because malaria can cause extreme complications.
A long term solution will be a vaccine. However, that is still under process.
Scientists and researchers across the world are working on developing an effective and safe to use vaccine but there is still not a great one available for human use.
Malaria is a treatable disease.
Usually, people who get treated on time, live a healthy life.
There is a chance of relapse in case dormant parasites exist in the liver.
This means you may get malaria again in some time or even after a year till the parasites grow and damage the red blood cells.
However, malaria does lead to life-threatening complications.
To add to that, it is also worrisome that many parasites are becoming drug-resistant.
This means that research for creating new formulations should get faster because parasite species rapidly develop drug-resistance.
Considering that malaria has lethal consequences, more research into drugs and vaccines needs to be funded.