This article will give you an overview of Malaria symptoms, diagnosis & treatment. Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals of life-threatening nature. It is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. Infected mosquitoes carry the Plasmodium parasite. When this mosquito bites you, the parasite is released into your bloodstream.
Once the parasites are inside your body, they travel to the liver, where they mature. After several days, the mature parasites enter the bloodstream and begin to infect red blood cells. Within 48 to 72 hours, the parasites inside the red blood cells multiply, causing the infected cells to burst open. The parasites continue to infect red blood cells, resulting in symptoms that occur in two-to-three-day cycles.
Most malaria infections cause symptoms like the flu, such as a high fever, chills, and muscle pain. Symptoms tend to come and go in cycles. Some types of malaria may cause more serious problems, such as damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, or brain. These types can be deadly. The classic symptom of malaria is paroxysm—a cyclical occurrence of sudden coldness followed by shivering and then fever and sweating, occurring every two days (tertian fever) in P. vivax and P. ovale infections, and every three days (quartan fever) for P. malariae. P. falciparum infection can cause recurrent fever every 36–48 hours, or a less pronounced and almost continuous fever.
Malaria is usually confirmed by the microscopic examination of blood films or by antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests (RDT). Diagnosis of malaria is made by your doctor. During your appointment, your doctor will review your health history, including any recent travel to tropical climates. He or she will also perform a physical exam. Your doctor will be able to determine if you have an enlarged spleen or liver. If you have symptoms of malaria, your doctor may order additional blood tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests will show:
- whether or not you have malaria
- what type of malaria you have
- if your infection is caused by a parasite that is resistant to certain types of drugs
- if the disease has caused anemia
- if the disease has affected your vital organs
Methods used to prevent malaria include medications, mosquito elimination and the prevention of bites. There is no vaccine for malaria. The presence of malaria in an area requires a combination of high human population density, high anopheles mosquito population density and high rates of transmission from humans to mosquitoes and from mosquitoes to humans. If any of these is lowered sufficiently, the parasite will eventually disappear from that area, as happened in North America, Europe and parts of the Middle East. However, unless the parasite is eliminated from the whole world, it could become re-established if conditions revert to a combination that favours the parasite’s reproduction. Furthermore, the cost per person of eliminating anopheles mosquitoes rises with decreasing population density, making it economically unfeasible in some areas.
Prevention of malaria may be more cost-effective than treatment of the disease in the long run, but the initial costs required are out of reach of many of the world’s poorest people. There is a wide difference in the costs of control (i.e. maintenance of low endemicity) and elimination programs between countries.
- Wear protective clothing (long pants and long-sleeved shirts).
- Use insect repellent with DEET (N,N diethylmetatoluamide). The repellent is available in varying strengths up to 100%. In young children, use a preparation containing less than 24% strength, because too much of the chemical can be absorbed through the skin.
- Use bed nets (mosquito netting) sprayed with or soaked in an insecticide such as permethrin or deltamethrin. But make sure that these insecticides still work against the mosquitoes where you are. In some areas, mosquitoes have become resistant to permethrin and deltamethrin. So the bed nets do not offer much protection.
- Use flying-insect spray indoors around sleeping areas.
- Avoid areas where malaria and mosquitoes are present if you are at higher risk (for example, if you are pregnant, very young, or very old).
Preventing Malaria While Traveling:
There is no vaccine available to prevent malaria. If you are traveling to an area where malaria is common, talk to your doctor. He or she may prescribe medications to prevent the disease. These medications are the same as those used to treat the disease and can be taken before, during, and after your trip.
You may also want to take extra precautions while traveling. Sleeping under a mosquito net may help prevent being bitten by an infected mosquito. Covering your skin or using bug sprays containing DEET may also help prevent infection.