Malaria, an infectious disease caused by a protozoan called plasmodium, is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. The protozoa, after entering the human body, multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells and burst out of the cells, thus destroying them. People suffering from malaria experience fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms.
About 400 million new cases of malaria are registered per year, worldwide. It occurs extensively in tropical and subtropical regions.
There are four different species of malaria parasite viz.:
- Plasmodium vivax
- Plasmodium ovale
- Plasmodium malariae
- Plasmodium falciparum
The most dangerous type of malaria is that caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. It can prove to be fatal, and death can occur within 48 hours of the initial symptoms if left untreated. The other three types of the parasite cause less dangerous forms of malaria. However, if not treated on time there may be recurrent spells of related symptoms.
The symptoms of malaria may start showing from anywhere between the 10th day to the 6th week of a mosquito bite. However, it may take months to develop the symptoms if preventive medications were taken during the time of infection.
Common symptoms include:
- High fever
- Chills and shivers
- Heavy sweating
- Tiredness and muscle pain
- Headache and confusion
How does it spread
The infection is prevalent in tropical areas which have a hot, humid climate in which the anopheles mosquitoes thrive. It is the female anopheles mosquito which spreads the disease from person to person. When a mosquito bites an infected person, the parasite enters the body of the mosquito, and develops inside its intestine and salivary glands. When the mosquito bites a healthy person, it passes on the parasite into his/her bloodstream. As the parasite enters the human blood it travels to the liver where it multiplies and then re-enters the bloodstream, where it invades the red blood corpuscles. In around 48-72 hours these blood cells rupture and release the parasites that move on to invade other red blood cells.
Malaria may also get passed on from a pregnant mother to the foetus or through blood transfusions and use of infected needles.
Self help and prevention
If you are planning a vacation to a country where the infection is prevalent, it is advisable to consult your doctor. He may prescribe anti-malarial drugs, which are to be taken before and during the visit. It is also very important to take certain precautions to avoid mosquito bites. These include:
- Wear full sleeved clothes that cover you properly
- Use mosquito repellents on exposed skin
- Sleep under mosquito nets treated with insecticides
Diagnosis and treatments
Malaria can be diagnosed by blood tests which are done to detect the malarial antigens in blood. The most commonly used diagnostic test is observing the blood smear on a microscope slide.
A person diagnosed with malaria is immediately given anti-malarial drugs in order to avoid any further complications. The treatment hugely depends on the type of malaria and the severity of symptoms. If it is of the falciparum type the patient might be admitted to the hospital and treated with oral or intravenous anti-malarial drugs. With proper treatment, most of the patients fully recover, however, in case of malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale the disease may reoccur after treatment.