What is Malaria?
Malaria is a very infectious disease that is carried and passed to humans by mosquito bites. The mosquitoes carry a parasite that is then passed from the mosquito when it feeds on human blood. It is very common in many tropical countries where the population do not have the resources to provide anti-malaria medicine to everyone. Mosquito nets are the only way to try to prevent catching malaria for many people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are 350-500 million cases of malaria every year.
There are several strains of malaria and some are far more dangerous than others which may lead some people to thinking that malaria is not that deadly.
Malaria can remain dormant in the liver for anywhere between 2 weeks to several months. Then the parasites start to multiply.
Symptoms are typically fever and headaches which is why many doctors mistake malaria for influenza or even just a bad cold and being run down. In severe cases malaria can cause hallucinations, coma and death. Malaria can leave people brain damaged.
Hopefully this will help highlight the importance of taking anti-malaria medicine when travelling to tropical countries where malaria is common. Many people feel that they do not need to bother, as they are fit and healthy, but malaria strikes down the strongest and fittest people as well as the weak.
A wide variety of antimalarial drugs are available to treat malaria. During the 21st Century, treatment of P. falciparum infections in endemic countries has been transformed by the use of combinations of drugs containing an artemisinin derivative. Severe malaria is treated with intravenous or intramuscular quinine or, increasingly, the artemisinin derivative artesunate. Several drugs are also available to prevent malaria in travellers to malaria-endemic countries (prophylaxis). Resistance has developed to several antimalarial drugs, most notably chloroquine.
Malaria transmission can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites with the distribution of inexpensive mosquito nets and insect repellents, or by using mosquito-control measures, such as spraying insecticides inside houses and draining standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs.
Although many are under development, the challenge of producing a widely available vaccine that provides a high level of protection for a sustained period is still to be met.
- Kilama W, Ntoumi F (October 2009). “Malaria: a research agenda for the eradication era”. Lancet 374 (9700): 1480–2.
- If I get malaria, will I have it for the rest of my life? CDC publication.