MALARIA: The deadly Killer!

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite, Plasmodium, which infects red blood cells. The symptoms characteristic of malaria include fever, chills, muscle aches, and headache. Some patients develop nausea, vomiting, cough, and diarrhea. Cycles of chills, fever, and sweating that repeat every one, two, or three days are typical. There can sometimes be vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and yellowing (jaundice) of the skin and whites of the eyes due to destruction of red blood cells and liver cells. It is important to note that the symptoms above are not just for malaria. To be sure, see a doctor or go for laboratory tests.

Is malaria a serious or deadly sickness? Yes, it is! Currently, about 2 million deaths per year worldwide are due to malaria. The majority occur in children under 5 years of age in sub-Saharan African countries. There are about 400 million new cases per year worldwide.

How is malaria transmitted?

The life cycle of the malaria parasite (Plasmodium) is complicated and involves two hosts, humans and Anopheles mosquitoes. The disease is transmitted to humans when an infected Anopheles mosquito bites a person and injects the malaria parasites into the blood. These parasites are called Sporozoites. They travel through the bloodstream to the liver, mature, and eventually infect the human red blood cells. While in red blood cells, the parasites again develop until a mosquito takes a blood meal from an infected human and ingests human red blood cells containing the parasites. Then the parasites reach the Anopheles mosquito’s stomach and eventually invade the mosquito salivary glands. When an Anopheles mosquito bites a human, these sporozoites complete and repeat the complex Plasmodium life cycle. The period between the mosquito bite and the onset of the malarial illness is usually one to three weeks (seven to 21 days).

Malaria Treatment

Three main factors determine treatments: the infecting species of Plasmodium parasite, the clinical situation of the patient (for example, adult, child, or pregnant female with either mild or severe malaria), and the drug susceptibility of the infecting parasites. Drug susceptibility is determined by the geographic area where the infection was acquired. Different areas of the world have malaria types that are resistant to certain medications. The correct drugs for each type of malaria must be prescribed by a doctor who is familiar with malaria treatment protocols. Malaria is deadly and has to be treated fast to avoid death.

Is malaria a particular problem during pregnancy?

Yes. Malaria may pose a serious threat to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Malaria infection in pregnant women may be more severe than in women who are not pregnant. Malaria may also increase the risk of problems with the pregnancy, including prematurity, abortion, and stillbirth. Statistics indicate that in sub-Saharan Africa, between 75,000-200,000 infants die from malaria per year; worldwide estimates indicate about 2 million children die from malaria each year. Therefore, all pregnant women who are living in or traveling to a malaria risk area should consult a doctor and take prescription drugs to avoid contracting malaria.

Is malaria a serious problem for children?

Yes, it is a big problem. All children, including young infants, living in or traveling to malaria risk areas should take antimalarial drugs. Although the recommendations for most antimalarial drugs are the same as for adults, it is crucial to use the correct dosage for the child. The dosage of drug depends on the age and weight of the child. A specialist in pediatric infectious diseases is recommended for consultation in prevention and treatment of children. Since an overdose of an antimalarial drug can be fatal, all antimalarial (and all other) drugs should be stored in childproof containers well out of the child’s reach.