Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by an infection with a parasite.
Malaria is common in many countries, particularly in tropical and subtropical climate. Africa south of the Sahara and in parts of Oceania such as Papua New Guinea have the highest transmission rates of malaria. It can cause illness that can range from mild to severe, and can even result in death.
There is currently no licensed malaria vaccine on the market. Vaccine clinical trials are ongoing to produce an effective malaria vaccine, but it is complicated:
- The malaria parasite is a complex organism
- The parasite has a complicated life cycle
- It can evade a person’s immune system by constantly changing its surface
- The complex immune responses that protect humans against malaria are not fully understood
What Are Symptoms of Malaria?
Symptoms of malaria include:
- Flu-like illness
- Muscle aches
- Stomach problems
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Fast heart rate
- Rapid breathing
Symptoms of severe malaria may include:
What Causes Malaria?
Malaria is mainly caused by four kinds of malaria parasites that infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae. The parasites are transmitted via the bite of a female Anopheles spp mosquito, which are active mainly between dusk and dawn.
The malaria parasite is found in red blood cells of infected people and can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, organ transplant, or the shared use of needles or syringes contaminated with blood.
Malaria can also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn infant before or during delivery (congenital malaria).
However, malaria is not contagious. It is not spread from person-to-person and you cannot get malaria from casual contact with an infected person.
How Is Malaria Diagnosed?
Malaria is diagnosed with a patient history (including travel history), physical examination, and a blood test to look for the parasite that causes the illness.
If you have recently traveled to a country where malaria transmission occurs and you get sick, see a doctor immediately for diagnosis.
What Is the Treatment for Malaria?
Malaria is treated with medication, and treatment may depend on which parasite is causing the illness.
Medications used to treat malaria include:
- Chloroquine phosphate
- Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil)
- Artemether-lumefantrine (Coartem)
- Atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone)
- Quinine sulfate plus either doxycycline or tetracycline is preferred to quinine sulfate plus clindamycin
- Primaquine phosphate
- Mefloquine (Lariam) is used only when other options cannot be used because it is associated with rare but potentially severe neuropsychiatric reactions
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