An Infectious Disease

General overview

Malaria has been noted for more than 4,000 years. The parasite enters the bloodstream through a mosquito bite, and then moves to the liver where it reproduces and changes form. Then the parasites re-enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells. It undoes more reproduction, and then they burst out of the red blood cell. The reproduction and destruction of cells causes a build up of toxins in the bloodstream. This leads to symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, and headaches. Four kinds of malaria parasites can infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae.

Causes of Malaria

The disease is transmitted through a certain type of mosquito, a female Anopheles. The mosquitoes who transmits the disease must have been infected through a previous blood meal taken from an infected person. When it takes the next blood meal, the parasites mix with the saliva of the mosquito and are injected into the person being bitten. It can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, organ transplants, or the shared use of syringes.

Incidence of Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates that each year 300-500 million cases of malaria occur and more than 1 million people die of malaria, especially in developing countries. Malaria is not attracted to a certain age group or ethnicity, yet small children and pregnant women are more prone to getting infected due to weak immune systems. Anyone can get malaria. Most cases occur in developing countries, or places that have malaria transmission. People from places without malaria can still get infected by traveling to places with malaria or through a blood transfusion (although this is very rare, it CAN happen). Between 2000 and 2015, malaria incidence (the rate of new cases) fell by 37% globally. In that same period, malaria death rates fell by 60% globally among all age groups, and by 65% among children under 5.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms include fever and flu-like illness, such as shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting may also occur. Due to the loss of red-blood cells, malaria may also cause anemia and jaundice. P. falciparum may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, comas, and death if not properly treated. For most people, symptoms begin 10 days to 4 weeks after infection, although a person may feel ill as early as 7 days or as late as 1 year later.
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Doctors can run tests to determine whether you have malaria or not. One such test is a diagnostic test called a blood smear. This test includes taking a small sample of blood and examining it for parasites under a microscope. A blood test that can diagnose malaria rapidly also is available. If this rapid test indicates a person has malaria, the results are usually confirmed with a blood smear.


Malaria can be treated with prescription drugs. Many factors affect what specific drug is used, such as the type of malaria, where you were infected, age, whether you are pregnant or not, and how sick you are at the beginning of the treatment. The disease should be treated as early as possible, before it becomes life-threatening. If the right drugs are used, people who have malaria can be cured and all the malaria parasites can be cleared from their body. If the wrong drugs are used, then not all parasites are killed and the disease can remain in your body.


There are measures you can take to prevent malaria. If you are traveling to an area with malaria, the you should take proper precautions such as taking malaria preventing drugs. Another way to prevent malaria is to use bug spray and mosquito nets to keep the mosquitoes from biting you, especially at night. You can also spray insecticides on your home walls to kill the adult mosquitoes. Sleeping under a bed net at night can be especially effective if it has been treated with insecticide.

Additional Info

If you have recently traveled to a malaria-risk area, and develop flu-like symptoms up to a year, you should immediately seek out professional medical care. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider that you have recently been to an area with malaria. Most travelers are deferred from donating blood until a year has passed. Someone who lived in an area with malaria cannot donate blood for up to 3 years. Malaria typically is found in warmer regions of the world—in tropical and subtropical countries. Higher temperatures allow the Anopheles mosquito to thrive.