HistoryMalaria has been around since ancient times. The early Egyptians wrote about it on papyrus, and the famous Greek physician Hippocrates described it in detail. It devastated the invaders of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, as in other temperate climates, malaria lurked in marshes and swamps. People blamed the unhealthiness in these areas on rot and decay that wafted out on the foul air, or, as the Italians were to say, “mal aria” or bad air. In 1880, scientists discovered the real cause of malaria, the one-celled Plasmodium parasite, and 18 years later, they attributed the transmission of malaria to the Anopheles mosquito.
WorldwideUp to 2.7 million people die each year from malaria, most of them African children. Between 400 million and 900 million cases of acute malaria occur annually in African children alone.
United StatesAccording to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1,000 new cases are reported annually in travelers returning from malaria-endemic areas.
CauseMalaria is caused by a one-celled parasite from the genus Plasmodium. More than 100 different species of Plasmodium exist. They produce malaria in many types of animals and birds, as well as in people. Four species of Plasmodium infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae, and Plasmodium ovale.
TransmissionMost commonly, from an infected female Anopheles mosquito bite. Malaria is transmitted occasionally by transfusions of blood from infected individuals, sharing of needles to inject intravenous drugs, or from an infected pregnant woman to her unborn child.
SymptomsMalaria typically produces a string of recurrent attacks, or paroxysms, each of which has three stages—chills, followed by fever, and then sweating. Along with chills, the person is likely to have typical flu symptoms: headache, nausea, and vomiting. Within an hour or two, the person’s temperature rises, and the skin feels hot and dry. Then, as the body temperature falls, a drenching sweat begins. The person, feeling tired and weak, is likely to fall asleep. Life-threatening illnesses, such as severe anemia or cerebral malaria, may occur in some infected individuals.
DiagnosisA doctor will examine blood smears, taken from a finger prick, under a microscope. the diagnosis is confirmed. A “thick” smear makes it possible for the health care worker to examine a large amount of blood. Then, the species of parasite can be identified by looking at a corresponding “thin” smear. This is important for deciding on the best treatment. Mixed infections are possible. or example, a person can be infected with P. vivax as well as the more dangerous P. falciparum.
TreatmentIn most cases, malaria can be successfully treated. The recuperating patient may find it takes several weeks to recover full strength. Before deciding on the best medicine to use, the doctor should try to identify the species of parasite responsible for the disease and where the patient got the infection.
Prevention of MalariaAnyone traveling to a malaria-endemic area should consult CDC, WHO, a knowledgeable health care provider, an international travel clinic, or a local health department to get advice on what medicines to take before, during, and after the trip. Health risks for malaria vary with the destination and types of activities the traveler will undertake. A traveler who spends even a single night in a malarious area risks getting infected. People can be infected with Malaria during a layover at an airport. The first line of defense is to limit contact with mosquitoes by taking these measures:
- Use mosquito repellent
- Keep arms and legs covered
- Stay indoors from dusk to dawn (when Anopheles mosquitoes normally feed)
- Sleep under mosquito netting
- Take antimalarial medicines to prevent infection
To learn more about Malaria go to the two sources used for this page:
The National Institute of Health and
The USA Directors of Health Promotion and Education (DHPE)