Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium and is transmitted by mosquito bite. The Female Anopheles mosquito is the major carrier of this parasite.

What is Malaria?

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium and is transmitted by mosquito bite. The Female Anopheles mosquito is the major carrier of this parasite.

Malaria is caused when a person is bitten by infected Anopheles mosquito. The infection is passed into the blood and the parasite causing Malaria multiply in the liver thus causing the malarial symptoms. A single bite is enough to cause Malaria.

There are 4 types of Plasmodium which cause Malaria and the nature of the parasite determines the quality of the infection.

What is the prevalence of Malaria?

Malaria is caused by mosquitoes hence a region which supports the breeding of mosquitoes has more instances of Malaria. Rainfall, heat, stagnant water, thick bushes favour the growth of mosquitoes. This type of climate is found in the African subcontinent, parts of Asia and South America. These regions support the tropical monsoon type of climate which is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Africa has the highest number of deaths due to Malaria. More than one million deaths have been reported worldwide due to Malaria which can become severe in some cases.

The severity of Malaria depends upon the type of parasite or Plasmodium which is transmitted into the body. It can be mild to severe.

What are its causes and the risk factors?

The main cause of Malaria is the bite of an infected mosquito.

The risk of contracting Malaria is compounded if you are:

  • Living in tropical areas which includes countries like Africa, Indian subcontinent and certain parts of South America
  • Travelling to countries with high incidence of Malaria. Especially travellers coming from an area with no incidence of Malaria
  • Pregnant women and their unborn children, infants and small children

Certain factors like lack of medical facilities, lack of knowledge and sometimes through [infected] blood transfusion.

What are the symptoms of Malaria?

The signs and symptoms of Malaria include:

  • High fever accompanied with chills
  • Fever and chills more prominent in the evening
  • Excessive sweating when fever subsides
  • Headache, vomiting and diarrhoea

The symptoms may show up within a few weeks of being transmitted or sometimes they may take a year to develop.

Are there complications in Malaria or its treatment?

The severity of the disease depends upon the type of infection. It can be mild to severe and with or without complications. Most of the severe cases are found in Africa.

The complications can be:

  • Cerebral Malaria: When infected Blood cells block blood vessels in the brain, swelling may occur leading to damage to brain which may lead to a coma
  • Breathing Problems
  • Organ Failure: Malaria may cause organs like liver and kidney to fail and sometimes rupture or burst the Spleen which can be life threatening
  • Severe Anaemia: Malaria causes damage to red blood cells causing severe anaemia or blood loss
  • Low Blood Sugar: Malaria and its medication Quinine causes fall in sugar levels in the blood leading to coma or death
How is Malaria diagnosed?

Blood Test is the most common test applied to correctly diagnose Malaria.

The test results were available in a few days earlier and as time passed it is now available much sooner. But it is time to visit the doctor if you have exposed yourself to any of the risk factors and are feeling the symptoms of Malaria.

The severity will be checked by the doctor who will ask you related questions and will physically check for your spleen and neurological functions and may refer you to an Infectious Disease Specialist if there is severity.

What is the treatment for Malaria?

The treatment, its course and duration depends on factors like age, type of Malarial parasite, severity of symptoms and in women; if pregnant.

The most common anti- Malarial medications include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine sulfate
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Mefloquine
  • Combination of Atovaquone and Proguanil
Can Malaria be prevented?

Before you set out to travel to a place where the incidence of Malaria is high, visit your doctor and carry drugs which can help you keep Malaria at bay. The treatment drugs and preventive medicine are same and depend upon the type of Malarial parasite found in the region.

Prevention strategies include use of mosquito nets, sprays, fumigation, wearing full clothes in night, applying of mosquito repellent creams. Keeping your surroundings clean of any stagnant water also helps.

There is no vaccine for Malaria. If a person has suffered from Malaria once then it is likely that he has become immune to it and if a person has never been exposed to Malaria then chances of catching the infection are high. Use of preventive strategies proves useful to an extent.

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