Malaria is a serious infection. It is common in tropical countries such as parts of Africa, Asia and South America. It is caused by a parasite (germ) called plasmodium that lives in mosquitoes. The parasite is passed to humans from a female anopheles mosquito bite.

There are four types of plasmodium that cause malaria. Plasmodium falciparum is usually the most serious.

How is malaria transmitted?

The plasmodium parasite is usually transmitted by a particular species of mosquito, which is the anopheles mosquito. If a female anopheles mosquito bites a person who is infected with malaria, the mosquito can then carry the plasmodium parasite and then spread it to others when it bites and feeds from other people's blood.

When the plasmodium parasite enters your blood, it travels to your liver and then re-enters the blood stream where it can invade your red blood cells. Eventually, these infected red blood cells burst which leads to them releasing even more of the tiny parasites into your blood. These infected red blood cells tend to burst every 48-72 hours. Each time they burst, you will usually experience an episode of chills, fever and sweating.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

There are two general types of malaria: benign and malignant. Benign malaria is milder and relatively easy to treat. Malignant malaria can be very severe and can sometimes be fatal.

Benign malaria

The most common symptom of benign malaria is a high fever, typically every 48-72 hours with of chills, and sweating .However, there may be no such pattern in many cases. Absence of fever in an ill person does not exclude the diagnosis of malaria. Headaches, muscle pains, abdominal pains, cough, tiredness and feeling generally unwell. Children are more tired and can have diarrhoea and/or vomiting.

Malignant malaria

Malignant malaria is caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Malignant malaria usually begins with similar symptoms to benign malaria, but will often lead to complications, such as breathing problems, liver failure and shock. Malignant malaria can also affect the brain and central nervous system which can even lead to death.

How is malaria diagnosed?

Blood test.

  • The blood sample examined for the presence of the malaria parasite. The type of malaria causing the infection will also be determined. If the first blood test is negative but your doctor suspects malaria, then you may be asked to have another blood test taken a couple of days later.

How is malaria treated?

If malaria is promptly diagnosed and treated, most people make a full recovery. Malaria is normally treated using anti-malarial medicines. There are different types of these medicines available. If your symptoms are mild then you will be treated at home. However, if you have Plasmodium falciparum malaria then it is very likely you will be treated and monitored in hospital. Resistance to antimalarial drugs has spread rapidly over the past few decades, especially to Plasmodium falciparum. This means that newer drugs or a combination of drugs may be given.

How can malaria be prevented?

There is an "ABCD" of malaria prevention. This is:
A wareness of risk of malaria.
B ite prevention.
C hemoprophylaxis (taking anti-malarial medication regularly and exactly as prescribed).
prompt D iagnosis and treatment

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