What is Malaria? Understanding The Deadly Disease
Malaria is a disease that has plagued humanity for thousands of years, infecting millions of people and claiming countless lives. It’s a deadly disease that affects some of the most vulnerable populations in the world, particularly in developing countries with limited access to healthcare. This treatable disease kills about 600,000 people each year. Despite its long history and widespread impact, many people still don’t fully understand what malaria is or how it’s transmitted. In this article, let’s explore the ins and outs of this deadly disease, including its causes, symptoms, and the most effective ways to prevent and treat it.
Malignant Malaria and Causative Agent
There are five species of Plasmodium that can cause malaria in humans, each with different geographic distributions and symptoms. Only female Anopheles mosquitoes, the causative agent of malaria, can transmit the parasite, as they need blood to produce eggs. When an infected person is bitten, the mosquito ingests the Plasmodium parasite, which multiplies within the mosquito and then passes on to the next person it bites. The most severe and potentially fatal form of malaria is malignant or falciparum malaria, which is caused by the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. This parasite can invade and multiply in red blood cells, leading to severe anaemia, organ failure, and death. Although malignant malaria is more common in sub-Saharan Africa, it can occur in other regions worldwide.
Symptoms of Malaria
The symptoms of malaria typically develop within 10 days to 4 weeks after infection and can vary depending on the type of Plasmodium parasite that has caused the infection. Some common symptoms of malaria include:
- Muscle pain
In addition to these general symptoms, different types of malaria can cause specific symptoms:
- P. falciparum malaria can cause complications such as anaemia, respiratory distress, and kidney failure.
- P. vivax and P. ovale malaria can cause relapses, which means that the symptoms can recur several times over a period of several months or years.
Malaria can progress rapidly and cause severe complications such as seizures, coma, organ failure, and even death in very severe cases.
One should seek medical attention immediately if experiencing any symptoms of malaria, especially if one has recently travelled to an area with a high risk of malaria transmission. A timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help prevent severe complications and even save lives.
Can malaria spread from person to person? Then how to control it?
Malaria is not a contagious disease, which means it cannot be spread from person to person. It is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. To control malaria, it is essential to prevent mosquito bites. This can be done by using mosquito repellents, wearing protective clothing, and sleeping under mosquito nets. Also, eliminating mosquito breeding sites by removing stagnant water can help reduce the mosquito population.
Diagnostics and Treatment of Malaria
The diagnosis and treatment of malaria depend on several factors, including the severity of the infection, the species of the malaria parasite, and the age and medical history of the patient.
Diagnosis : Malaria diagnosis typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory tests, and medical history. These tests include:
- Blood smear microscopy: A small amount of blood is taken from the patient and examined under a microscope to detect the presence of the malaria parasite.
- Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs): These tests detect malaria antigens in the blood and provide results within minutes.
Treatment : Treatment of complicated malaria and uncomplicated malaria usually involves antimalarial medications, such as:
- Artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT): This is the recommended first-line treatment for uncomplicated malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.
- Chloroquine: This is used to treat malaria caused by P. vivax and P. ovale.
- Quinine: This is used to treat severe malaria and is often given in combination with other antimalarial drugs.
- Atovaquone-proguanil: This is used to treat uncomplicated malaria caused by P. falciparum and P. vivax.
- Primaquine: This is used to prevent relapses of malaria caused by P. vivax and P. ovale.
In addition to medication, supportive care may also be necessary for severe cases of malaria, which can include hospitalisation and management of complications such as anaemia, respiratory distress, or organ failure.
Overall, successful management of malaria depends on early diagnosis and prompt and effective treatment.
Did you know that if a pregnant woman contracts malaria, it can be passed on to the baby or cause a low birth weight, which lowers the baby’s chance of surviving?
Risk Factors of Malaria
There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of contracting malaria. These include:
- Geographic location: Malaria is most common in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, particularly in Africa, South Asia, and South America.
- Travel: People who travel to areas with high rates of malaria are at increased risk of infection.
- Time of year: Malaria transmission is highest during the rainy season, when mosquitoes are most abundant.
- Occupation: People who work outdoors, such as farmers, miners, and forestry workers, are at increased risk of malaria.
- Age: Children under the age of five and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria.
- Immune status: People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or receiving chemotherapy, are more susceptible to malaria.
- Genetics: Certain genetic factors can also increase the risk of severe malaria.
What steps can be taken to prevent malaria?
Preventive measures for malaria involve the following:
- Use of bed nets: Sleeping under a bed net can reduce the risk of mosquito bites while sleeping.
- Indoor residual spraying: Applying insecticides to the walls and surfaces inside homes can help kill mosquitoes and reduce their breeding.
- Antimalarial medication: In areas with high rates of malaria, taking antimalarial medication as prescribed by the doctor can help avoid infection.
- Mosquito control: Reducing mosquito breeding sites, such as standing water, and using mosquito repellents can help prevent mosquito bites.
- Travel precautions: People travelling to areas with high rates of malaria should take antimalarial medication and use protective measures such as bed nets and insect repellents.
- Vaccination: A malaria vaccine has been developed and is available in some countries, but its effectiveness is limited and it is not yet widely available.
Preventing malaria requires a combination of approaches, as a single measure is not 100% effective in stopping the transmission of the disease.
What to eat in malaria?
In cases of malaria, it is important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet to support the body’s immune system. Some recommended foods include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals, such as citrus fruits, berries, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables.
- Lean protein sources such as poultry, fish, and beans to support muscle recovery and repair.
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, and oats for sustained energy.
- Foods high in iron, such as red meat, dark leafy greens, and beans, to combat anaemia caused by malaria.
- It is also important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other fluids to prevent dehydration. It is recommended to avoid spicy and greasy foods that may irritate the stomach.
Malaria is a deadly disease that has affected millions of people around the world. It has claimed many lives, especially in areas with limited access to healthcare. With proper understanding, prevention, and treatment, malaria can be controlled and even eliminated. We can protect ourselves and our communities from the burden of this fatal disease by taking the essential precautions, such as using bed nets and seeking immediate medical assistance if any suspicious symptoms appear. Let us continue to raise awareness and work together to ensure a world free from malaria.
- Malaria- Diagnosis and Treatment
- Malaria- Overview
- Treating Malaria
About Author –
Dr. M.V. Rao, Consultant Physician, Yashoda Hospitals
MD (General Medicine)