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Malaria – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Prevention

Updated on November 9, 2013

Malaria is a disease caused due to the transmission of parasites via the bites of mosquitoes that carry those pathogens. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of fever and chills. The deadly disease kills nearly 1 million people from around the world on an annual basis.

Malaria is quite widespread in tropical and subtropical regions. It is not prevalent in temperate climates. Officials from World Health Organizations and other global health associations are trying to decrease the cases of malaria by giving free bed nets so as to help guard people from mosquito bites during sleep. A vaccine for malaria is currently in the developmental stages.

People who are planning to travel to countries where malaria is prevalent should take preventive drugs before, during, and after the journey. It is also important to note that several malarial parasites are currently resistant to a majority of common anti-malarial drugs.

Symptoms of Malaria

A malarial infection typically features recurrent episodes that elicit the below listed signs and symptoms:

  • Fever with high body temperatures
  • Moderate to extreme shaking chills
  • Elevated perspiration with a fall in the body temperatures

Additional symptoms are:

  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea

The symptoms of malaria usually commence a few weeks after experiencing a bite from an infected mosquito. A few types of malarial parasites can however remain dormant inside the body for several months and even some years.

Most malaria-associated deaths occur due to the development of below listed complications:

  • Pulmonary edema or buildup of fluids in the lungs which result in breathing difficulties
  • Cerebral malaria caused due to the blockage of tiny blood vessels going to the brain by parasite-laden blood cells. Patients may suffer from brain damage or inflammation, and coma.
  • Extensive damage of the red blood cells can result in anemia
  • Bursting of the spleen, or failure of vital organs like the liver or kidneys. Such complications are a major cause of fatalities
  • Decreased levels of blood sugar can occur in people suffering from serious forms of malaria. Quinine, a drug used to treat malaria, can also cause low blood sugar. Extremely low levels of blood sugar can cause coma and fatalities.

Is malaria contagious?

Unlike flu or cold, malaria does not spread from person to person. You do not contract the disease from contact with a malaria infected patient, like sharing his food or sitting next to him.

Causes of Malaria

Malaria is caused by the transfer of a microscopic parasite, most often via the bites of mosquitoes that carry the organism.

The transfer cycle of parasites by mosquitoes consists of the following stages:

  • A mosquito can get infected by biting an individual affected by malaria
  • When this infected mosquito bites another person, the parasite is transmitted to him/her
  • The parasites then pass into the liver where they can remain inactive for even up to a year
  • After the maturation of the parasites, they travel from the liver to the red blood cells and infect them. This is the time when a patient will elicit the distinctive symptoms of malaria
  • If another mosquito bites the person who is experiencing malarial symptoms, then it becomes infected. Later, the infected mosquito can transmit the parasites to the next individual it bites.

Since the parasites that cause malaria infect the red blood cells, the disease can also transfer via contact with infected blood. This can include:

  • Via blood transfusions
  • From mother to the fetus
  • Sharing of infected needles

Travelers who come from regions with no instances of malaria, infants and young children, and pregnant women as well as the unborn child are at elevated risk to developing severe cases of malaria.

People living in or travelling to tropical regions where malaria is prevalent are most prone to developing the deadly disease. There are several different subtypes of parasites that cause malaria. The kinds that cause the most dangerous health complications can be found in the Indian subcontinent, African countries that lie south of the Sahara, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Haiti.

Nearly ninety percent of fatalities due to Malaria occur in Africa, especially among children below five years of age.

People living in countries where malaria is common tend to develop partial immunity to the disease due to frequent exposure to it. This can lower the intensity of ensuing symptoms of malaria. However, such partial immunity will fade away after moving to a region where contact with malarial parasites in limited or nil.

Treatment of Malaria

The duration of treatment for malaria and the kind of medications prescribed are dependent on the following factors:

  • The type of malarial parasite that has infected the patient
  • His/her age
  • The intensity of accompanying symptoms
  • Whether the patient is pregnant or not

Some of the common medications used for treatment of malaria include hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, mefloquine, quinine sulfate, and a combination of proguanil and atovaquone.

Prevention of Malaria

It is possible to prevent malaria by decreasing the exposure to mosquitoes. This can be achieved by sleeping under bed nets, treating the home and apparels with mosquito repellants and insecticides, and reducing exposure of skin while venturing out during times when mosquitoes are active, such as dusk and dawn.

Malaria Pictures


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