What is malaria?
Malaria is an infection by a microscopic parasite called Plasmodium.
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes
Every year millions of people around the world get malaria
Almost half a million people die from malaria every year, mostly children
Malaria causes fever and chills
It's diagnosed with a blood test
Several medicines treat malaria, but the parasites are becoming resistant to the medicines
Malaria used to occur almost everywhere in the world. Now it's mainly in warmer parts of the world such as:
Central America and islands in the Caribbean
India and other parts of South Asia
What causes malaria?
There are 5 species of the malaria parasite that affect people.
Malaria parasites live in the red blood cells of infected people
When mosquitoes bite an infected person, they pick up the parasite
The next person the mosquitoes bite can get infected
Malaria parasites first go to your liver to mature and reproduce. Then the parasites go into your blood and reproduce inside your red blood cells.
Eventually the red blood cells burst and release the parasites, which then infect more red blood cells
If many red blood cells are destroyed, you can get a low blood count (anemia Overview of Anemia Anemia is not having enough red blood cells or hemoglobin. Red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to all of your other organs. Hemoglobin is the substance inside your red blood cells that... read more )
The most dangerous form of malaria is called falciparum malaria. Falciparum malaria is especially dangerous because the infected red blood cells can clog up tiny blood vessels and cause organ damage. They may damage your brain, kidney, lungs, and other organs. Other forms of malaria don't do this.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
You may not get symptoms for several weeks or longer after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Then you get:
Shaking chills (very bad shivering)
Headache, muscle aches, and feeling very sick
The fever and chills come and go every couple of days. As the infection continues, you may get:
Falciparum malaria also causes other symptoms depending on what organs are affected:
Brain: Headache, confusion, coma, death
Lungs: Trouble breathing
Kidneys: Dark urine, kidney failure
Pregnant women may have a miscarriage, or their baby may be infected.
How can doctors tell if I have malaria?
There are 2 types of blood tests: (1) rapid tests using blood placed on a card and (2) tests to look at the blood under a microscope. Doctors often do both types of tests.
How do doctors treat malaria?
Medicines for malaria depend on which species you have and where you got it. In some parts of the world, malaria parasites are resistant to many malaria medicines.
In some remote areas where malaria is common, malaria medicines sold by local pharmacies may be counterfeit. If you're traveling to a high risk area, your doctor may have you bring along malaria medicines just in case you get infected.
How can I prevent malaria?
On October 6, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended widespread use of a malaria vaccine among children living in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission.
If you visit or live in an area that has malaria, you need to:
Do things to avoid mosquito bites
Take preventive medicine to kill malaria parasites
To avoid mosquito bites:
Sleep under a mosquito net that is coated with the insecticide permethrin
Apply mosquito repellents containing DEET
Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, particularly between dusk and dawn
If you're going to be exposed to a lot of mosquitoes, wear clothing that has been coated with permethrin
People who live in areas with malaria often spray insecticide in their homes and outbuildings, place screens on their doors and windows, and clean up any standing water (like in old tires, flower pots, or puddles), which is where mosquitoes like to breed.
You can take medicine to prevent malaria. Several different medicines are available. Your doctor can advise which one is right for where you're traveling and for your health conditions. You'll need to start taking the medicine before you get to the area with malaria.