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Malaria: Symptoms, causes, treatment & prevention

Team AckoSept 7, 2022

As per a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, more than 4,00,000 people die from Malaria each year, and it infects nearly 290 million worldwide. Thus, it's crucial to be aware of the causes and symptoms of this vector-borne disease to take timely action. Read this article to learn more about Malaria and ways to prevent it.

Malaria

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a disease that causes an acute fever sickness when a person is infected with Plasmodium parasites. Malaria is caused by the bites of a female mosquito called Anopheles.

The illness typically does not pass directly from one person to another but can spread through indirect contact like blood transfusions or contaminated injection needles. The mosquito's infection occurs when it feeds on a patient who already has the disease, beginning the cycle of disease transmission. The same insect that carries Malaria transmits it to victims when it bites them, infecting the red blood cells and causing Malaria symptoms. 

Malaria can be divided into two categories: severe and uncomplicated. The parasites responsible for causing the symptoms determine the severity of the disease.

Mosquito transmission cycle

The Malaria parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes. They are just the carriers and do not get affected by it. Avoiding mosquito bites is, therefore, a crucial component of Malaria prevention. Note that only the anopheles mosquito is capable of spreading the parasite. 

The Anopheles mosquito has a feeding cycle of around seven days. In case it has previously bitten a person who has Malaria, it will transmit the parasite to other people.

  1. The anopheles mosquito bites a person who has Malaria

  2. It carries the Malaria parasites within its body

  3. It transfers the parasites to an uninfected person through a bite

What are the types of Malaria parasites?

There are about a hundred different Plasmodium species that can infect mammals, birds, and reptiles. Here is the list of the most common five.

  1. Plasmodium Malariae (or P. Malariae)

  2. Plasmodium knowlesi (or P. knowlesi)

  3. Plasmodium falciparum (or P. falciparum)

  4. Plasmodium ovale (or P. ovale)

  5. Plasmodium vivax (or P. vivax)

P. falciparum and P. vivax, two of the five parasite species that cause Malaria in humans, are the most dangerous. P. falciparum is also the one seen most frequently in Africa. In most nations outside of sub-Saharan Africa, P. vivax is the predominant Malaria parasite.

Signs and symptoms of Malaria

The incubation time for Malaria is usually long, and symptoms may not show immediately. Incubation time refers to the time frame between a person's initial infection and the onset of their first symptoms. For Malaria, mild symptoms typically appear seven to eighteen days after infection. However, parasites can also remain dormant in the body for years without causing symptoms. Six to twelve hours of shivering, accompanied by a high fever, a headache, and weakness, are the most typical signs of Malaria. 

The following list shows other common symptoms.

  • Headache and backache

  • Nausea and fatigue

  • High temperature, chills that cause violent trembling

  • Chest pain, coughing, and breathing difficulties

  • Vomiting and diarrhoea

Even after contracting Malaria parasites, you could have some flu-like symptoms. Therefore, getting a medical examination in such situations is usually advisable.

What causes Malaria?

Malaria is caused by the female Anopheles mosquito that carries the disease. Typically, it is transmitted when they bite a human. Anopheles mosquitoes can spread Malaria only when they have ingested blood from an infected person. Microscopic Malaria parasites are injected into the body when the mosquito bites a healthy individual causing the disease.

Treatment procedure for Malaria

To get the Plasmodium parasite out of your system, you would need to rely on prescription treatments. The kind of parasite you have in your blood cells determines how long the treatment process will take. 

It is preferable to receive Malaria treatment under professional supervision, typically in a hospital where you can easily access the latest medical tools and medications you require to treat your illness. Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), which quickly reduces the amount of Plasmodium parasites in the bloodstream, is advised in the event of Malaria.

How to prevent Malaria

You can try to shield yourself from Malaria by practising the following precautions. 

  • Apply mosquito repellents: Chemicals like IR3535, 8-diol, Para-menthane-3, DEET, and other potent ingredients are found in registered repellents. This helps repel mosquitos.

  • Avoid stagnant water: It is typically easier for mosquitoes to thrive when water is allowed to pool in buckets, tyres, or shallow pits. Make sure there is no stagnant water in storage sources, especially during the monsoon, and make every effort to keep such areas as clean as possible.

  • Wear protective clothing:  Wear clothing that keeps your skin covered to prevent mosquito bites. For further protection, you can even spray insect repellent on your clothing.

  • Install mosquito netting: One of the simplest ways to protect yourself from mosquitoes and associated disease is to use mosquito netting. By substituting a mosquito net for an ointment, you can also avoid damaging chemicals.

How to diagnose Malaria

Your doctor will probably evaluate your medical history and recent travels, perform a physical exam, and prescribe blood tests to identify Malaria. Blood testing may reveal the following.

  • Determine if you have Malaria (the blood must have the parasite present).

  • The type of Malaria parasite.

  • If a parasite that is causing your infection is resistant to some medications.

  • Whether the illness is resulting in any severe side effects.

While other blood tests can produce findings in less than 15 minutes, certain blood tests can take several days to complete. Your doctor may prescribe additional diagnostic tests to rule out any complications based on your symptoms.

Malaria risk factors

Several circumstances have been linked to a possibly heightened risk of Malaria transmission.

  • Immune System Illness: Malaria can also infect persons with healthy immune systems, but those with immune system defects, such as HIV, are more likely to suffer from the disease's severe symptoms.

  • Blood Transfusion: There have been cases of the transmission of Malaria parasites through blood transfusions. In these cases, a blood donor who has contracted an infection—via a mosquito vector—typically hasn't yet shown symptoms of the sickness. The parasite may then be able to flourish inside the body of the blood recipient as a result of the transfer of contaminated blood cells.

  • Pregnancy: There is a higher risk of contracting Malaria among pregnant women. There are several hypothesised causes, one of which is a weakened immune system, which can reactivate an earlier infection or increase the likelihood that pregnant women can contract the disease if bitten by a mosquito carrying Malaria parasites.

  • Newborn Infants: Mother-to-Baby Transmission: Some newborns may be infected with Malaria from birth, having contracted the parasite from their mothers rather than a mosquito vector.

Is there a vaccine for Malaria?

The RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) Malaria vaccine should be widely administered to children in Africa with medium to severe Malaria cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Also, a vaccine trial programme has been running in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi since 2019 and has helped more than nine lakh kids avoid the disease.

"The High Burden to High Impact" programme supports 11 countries, including India, the only country outside of Africa that accounts for more than 70% of the estimated occurrences and deaths from Malaria worldwide.

According to India's National Malaria Control Programme, there were 77 fatalities and 0.33 million recorded cases in 2019. However, any specific type of Malaria parasite is not prevalent in the country. There is a mix of parasites that cause Malaria in India. This makes it difficult to administer a particular vaccine that targets one type of parasite. Thus, for now, there are no Malaria vaccines available in the country.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some common queries about Malaria.

Can Malaria spread through touch?

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No. Malaria cannot be transferred through touch or sexual activity and cannot spread to people like the common cold or the flu. People cannot contract Malaria through accidental contact with an infected person, such as by sharing a seat.

Who is susceptible to Malaria?

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Malaria can affect anyone, especially in regions where this disease is common. Travelling to places with Malaria or receiving blood transfusions can cause infection in people (although this is very rare). Additionally, before or during delivery, a mother who has Malaria can pass the infection to her child.

How soon after getting a mosquito bite would someone feel sick?

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Most patients experience Malaria symptoms ten days to 4 weeks after getting bitten. However, symptoms can appear as early as seven days after infection or as late as one year afterwards.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

Sources: 

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/Malaria

https://www.cdc.gov/Malaria/about/faqs.html

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