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Malaria Overview

  • Malaria is caused by parasites from the genus Plasmodium, which are spread to people through the bite of infected mosquitoes. Statistics show that there are 250 million to 500 million cases of malaria each year in the world, causing up to 1 million deaths. Deaths are especially common in children.
  • Approximately 1,500 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, largely as a result of international travel or immigration.
  • The hallmark of malaria is fever. Initially, symptoms may mimic the flu. Fever may be accompanied by shaking chills and muscle aches. Anemia is common.
  • Severe cases may cause organ failure or death.
  • Malaria is diagnosed from a blood smear when the parasite is seen under the microscope. Other tests are available, but microscopy remains the cornerstone of diagnosis. Malaria is treated with specific medications. Oral medications are usually used, except in severe cases.
  • Most patients recover completely after being treated. However, infection with P. vivax or P. ovale may be associated with organisms that hide in the liver for months or years, resisting treatment. Special medications are used to help eradicate these organisms.
  • People who travel to areas with malaria should visit their physician prior to departure. The risk of malaria may be reduced by taking medications and using mosquito precautions.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/23/2014
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Malaria »

Malaria, which predominantly occurs in tropical areas, is a potentially life-threatening disease caused by infection with Plasmodium protozoa transmitted by an infective female Anopheles mosquito vector.

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