What is Malaria?
Malaria is an infection that is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. It is caused by the parasite plasmodium, which is spread through the bites of the anopheles mosquito, also known as 'malaria vectors'. They bite mainly between dusk and dawn.
There are 4 types of malaria in humans. The most common are plasmodium vivax and plasmodium falciparum. The second is also the most deadly. The other two are called plasmodium malariae and plasmodium ovale. In recent years there have also been deaths reported in forested areas of South-East Asia due to a type of malaria in monkeys called plasmodium knowlesi.
There are about 20 different species of the mosquito that transmits malaria, which can be found around the world. Mosquitoes breed in shallow freshwater containers, such as rice fields, puddles and hoof prints. Once the malaria enters the human body the parasite multiplies in the liver and infects red blood cells.
The longer the lifespan of the mosquito species, the more deadly the malaria tends to be. This is because the longer the parasite lives in the mosquitoes; the better able it is to complete its development. The species prevalent in Africa have long life spans, which is why 85% of all deaths caused by the disease occur in the African continent.
Malaria is also more dangerous depending on the level of human immunity. Every 45 seconds a child dies from malaria, largely because they have not had time to build up immunity to the disease. Pregnant women and those with HIV are also at particular risk from the disease.
Travellers going from a malaria-free region to one where it is prevalent are particularly vulnerable to infection, as they have not built up immunity against it. Further information about travel and malaria can be found at the website www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Malaria can be prevented through the use of anti-malaria drugs. This is recommended for people travelling from an area where malaria is not present to one where it is common. The Online Clinic is prepared to supply anti-malarials after we have established that it is an appropriate course of treatment. Please complete a free consultation, which will be reviewed by one of our doctors.
Early diagnosis of malaria is crucial to reduce disease and prevent deaths. It can also minimise the transmission of the infection. It is important for people to be aware of the symptoms of the infection when travelling to affected areas. Early symptoms include:
If you experience such symptoms between a week and up to a year after first exposure, you should seek medical attention and inform your doctor that you have been in a malarious area.
Malaria is preventable and curable, though in 2008 there were 247 million cases of the infection. In the same year, it caused almost 1 million deaths, mostly amongst African children.
Travellers to a malarious region should take a course of prophylaxis medication to protect them against the disease. Treatment normally begins before travelling (sometimes a few weeks before) and continues for a period even after someone returns to a malaria-free region. There is a variety of different treatment options available and we recommend visiting the Fit to Travel website. It is important to understand that no anti-malarial is better than any other - it is a case of what is appropriate. Also, no anti-malarial is 100% effective.
As well as medication, there are a few simple steps that people can follow to reduce their chances of contracting malaria. These are:
- Sleeping under a mosquito net or in a room protected against mosquitoes
- Covering up in long, light-coloured clothing after dusk
- Using plug-in and spray repellents to deter the insects
In the case of infection, a doctor can prescribe appropriate malaria treatment. If you suspect that you have contracted malaria then you must consult with a doctor face to face as soon as possible.
Malaria Treatment News
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