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Malaria: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

The world has its own virtues and shortcomings. The deadly diseases such as Malaria is one of the many shortcomings. Although Scientists in the medical field are exploring and trying to invent medications for all the dangerous diseases, there are a few diseases which could be treated but can’t be prevented. One such disease is Malaria. What is Malaria, its causes, symptoms, treatments and its prevention - Here is everything you need to know:

Table of Contents

- What is Malaria?

- Causes of Malaria

- Symptoms of Malaria

- Diagnosis of Malaria

- Treatment of Malaria

- Prevention of Malaria

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a mosquito-borne blood disease. It is caused by a unicellular protozoan parasite of humans, Plasmodium. It is neither virus nor bacteria but one of the deadliest species of Plasmodium.

Malaria is transmitted from one being to another through the bite of Anopheles mosquito. The mosquito carries the parasite from the infected person to another human. The parasites transferred gets multiplied in the host’s liver and then they start infecting and destroying red blood cells in the host body causing the malaria symptoms.

Types of Malaria parasites:

Although there are hundreds of Plasmodium species, types of Malaria parasites are five. Only these five species of Plasmodium could infect humans and cause severe illness:

1. Plasmodium falciparum: Found in tropical and subtropical regions.

2. Plasmodium malariae: Found worldwide. It can cause chronic infection

3. Plasmodium vivax: Found in Asia and Latin America

4. Plasmodium ovale: Found in Africa and the Pacific islands

5. Plasmodium knowlesi: Found in southeast Asia. It has the ability to rapidly progress from the uncomplicated malaria case to severe malaria infection.

Of all the Plasmodium species, Plasmodium falciparum is most dangerous. Being infected by Plasmodium falciparum increases the risk of death of the malaria-infected person.

Facts Related to Malaria:

- Malaria is basically transferred by mosquitoes.

- The Malaria symptoms are similar to flu symptoms but could cause long-term effect and could be fatal if left untreated.

- World Malaria Day is celebrated on the 25th of April every year to recognize the global effort to control and eradicate Malaria.

Causes of Malaria:

Malaria causes are mainly of two kinds.

1. Through mosquito bites:

Malaria occurs when a bite from the female malaria mosquito, Anopheles, infects the blood with Plasmodium species parasites. Only Anopheles species of mosquitoes have the ability to transmit malaria.

Mosquito transmission cycle:

- An uninfected mosquito becomes infected by feeding on a person who is suffering from malaria.

- The infected mosquito transmits the parasite from one person to another by biting an uninfected person.

- The parasites in the infected person travel to the liver through the bloodstream and stay dormant for an average of 10.5 days and keep multiplying itself throughout the dormant period.

- When the parasites mature, they re-enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells. This is when the infected person starts suffering from malaria symptoms.

- Such transmission of parasites from one person to another through mosquito continues.

The bite from an infected mosquito let the parasite enter the bloodstream. So entered parasite lays dormant within the liver for an average of 10.5 days and keeps multiplying itself during the period. Once they are multiplies enough to infect the blood cells, they enter the bloodstream and destroy the RBCs.

2. Other modes of transmission: 

Although malaria mosquito is one of the main malaria causes, exposure to infected blood could also result in being infected from Plasmodium parasite. Some of the other modes of transmission are:

- Using shared needles to inject drugs

- Through blood transfusion from the infected person to an uninfected person.

- Congenital malaria: It is a rare condition in which the fetus gets infected from the parasites present in the mother’s blood.

Symptoms of Malaria:

Malaria symptoms can be categorised into two: Uncomplicated symptoms and Severe Malaria symptoms.

1. Uncomplicated Malaria:

It is an easily treatable form of malaria. The first stage of malaria where the symptoms have surfaced but there are no signs of severe infection or dysfunction of any of the vital organs. Uncomplicated stage of Malaria could become a severe form of malaria if left untreated or if the host has poor immunity.

The uncomplicated malaria symptoms usually last for 6 to 10 hours each day and recur every alternate day. The symptoms are similar to flu symptoms and there are high chances that they are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

The proceeding stage of the uncomplicated malaria symptoms are as follows:

- Cold with shivering

- Fever, vomiting and severe headaches.

- Seizures are possible in young people.

- Sweats with a return of temperature to normal. But with tiredness.

2. Severe Malaria Symptoms:

In severe form of malaria, Clinical or laboratory evidence helps in identifying the dysfunctioning of vital organs. Some of the Severe malaria symptoms are:

- Fever and chills

- Impaired consciousness

- Multiple convulsions

- Respiratory distress or deep breathing

- Signs of Anemia and abnormal bleeding

- Clinical jaundice and evidence of vital organ dysfunction.

Severe malaria could be fatal and could even cause death if left untreated.

Diagnosis of Malaria:

Early diagnosis of malaria is critical for the patient’s recovery. WHO advises the confirmation of the parasite through microscopic laboratory testing or through rapid diagnostic tests (RDT).

A doctor could diagnose malaria cases by reviewing the health history, recent travels and trips to tropical climates and performing a thorough physical exam. During a physical exam, the doctor will be able to determine if the spleen or liver is enlarged. If the doctor suspects that you have malaria symptoms, he would suggest for further blood tests such as a malaria test to confirm.

Malaria tests provide the clarifications about the following:

- Do you have malaria?

- What type of malaria you have?

- If your infection is caused by the parasite that has resistance to a certain type of drug.

- If you have anaemia due to the disease.

- If your vital organs have been affected due to disease.

Treatments for Malaria:

The main objective of the malaria treatment is to eliminate the Plasmodium parasite from the patient’s bloodstream.

For the people who are infected but are not showing any malaria symptoms could be treated with malaria treatment to reduce the risk of transmission of disease in the surrounding population.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is recommended for the uncomplicated malaria treatment.

The Artemisia annua plant (from which artemisinin is derived) has the ability to rapidly reduce the concentration of Plasmodium species in the bloodstream and hence reduce the parasitic effect. Artemisinin usually reduces the parasite concentration in the first 3 days of infection and the partner drug prescribed with it eliminate the rest.

Prevention of Malaria:

For prevention of malaria, there is not an approved malaria vaccine for humans yet. Scientists all around the world are still putting their best efforts to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Hence, if you are travelling to the places where the malaria is a common disease, your doctor might prescribe basically the medicines that could treat malaria. The medicines could be for you to take before, during and after your trip.

Reduce the Exposure to Mosquitoes:

Malaria mosquitoes are common in the countries where malaria is common. So, prevention of malaria generally involves keeping yourself safe from the mosquito bites. Some of the precautions that could be taken are:

- Insecticides: Treat your house with insecticide. This could kill the mosquitoes.

- Mosquito nets: Using bed nets could keep mosquitoes away from you.

- Protect your skin: during dusk and dawn (times when mosquitoes are active) its best to wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants.

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