Malaria

By:    Published: November 8, 2012

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Malaria is a disease caused by parasites that live in infected mosquitoes. The incidence of malaria is most common in tropical and subtropical climate countries; however, it can be present in moderate climates as well. Malaria is hazardous to travelers in these climates and those who travel there should attempt preventative measures. There is currently a vaccine under development, as most of the parasites responsible for malaria are immune to many of the medications that are used to treat the disease.

Definition

Malaria is a disease that is caused by a parasite. This parasite infects humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. Once the infected mosquito bites a human, the parasite is off and running. The parasites infect the bloodstream where they then travel into and infect the liver. While in the liver, they mature and form merozoites, which then infect the red blood cells.

Symptoms

Most symptoms occur somewhere between eight days and one year following an infection. Symptoms typically run in cycles of 2 to 3 days at a time. The symptoms are mainly caused by the merozoites infecting the bloodstream, anemia due to the disturbance of red blood cells and immense amounts of hemoglobin rushing into circulation in the wake of the destruction of red blood cells. Symptoms of malaria include:

  • Bouts of mild to severe shaking and chills
  • Elevated fever
  • Jaundice
  • Intense sweating
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • Convulsions
  • Anemia

Causes

Malaria is caused by the release of a parasite from an infected mosquito’s bite. The cycle of malaria begins with a mosquito bite and leads to the infection of the liver, destruction of red blood cells and mild to severe malaria symptoms. Other modes of malaria transmission include:

  • Passage from mother to fetus
  • As a result of a blood transfusion
  • Through the sharing of hypodermic needles

Risk Factors

The most serious risk factor for contracting malaria is traveling to or living in areas of the world where malaria is an epidemic. There are several varieties of parasites that can cause malaria. The most common places for malaria are:

  • Tropical and subtropical climates
  • African countries south of the Sahara
  • Solomon Islands
  • Haiti
  • New Guinea
  • The Indian subcontinent

People that may be more susceptible to contracting malaria include:

  • Infants and small children
  • Travelers from places where malaria is not present
  • Pregnant women and their fetuses
  • Poverty stricken communities
  • Individuals who lack health care
  • Individuals who lack knowledge of the disease

Diagnostic Tests

The only way to diagnose malaria is to perform a blood test. A blood test is also the most definitive factor is starting treatment if an individual tests positive for malaria. Blood tests are useful in:

  • Determining that an individual has malaria
  • Discerning which type of parasite has caused malaria
  • Determining if the parasite that is causing the symptoms is drug resistant
  • Detecting whether or not the malaria infection is compromising any vital organs

Treatment Options

Malaria is generally treated with antimalarial drugs. However, there has been some trouble in treating malaria because many of the parasites that cause malaria have become drug resistant. Deciding what antimalarial drug to use and how long treatment will last will depend upon a variety of factors including:

  • Which parasite has caused the malaria
  • How severe the symptoms have become
  • The individual’s age
  • If the person is pregnant

Prevention

If you know that you will be visiting an area that is known for malaria transmission, consult your doctor to speak about medications that you may take to protect yourself. These medications will likely need to be taken several months in advance, so prepare accordingly. Additionally, you may be able to protect yourself by adhering to the following guidelines:

  • Avoid traveling in peak seasons for mosquitoes if possible
  • Sleep under mosquito netting that has been treated with insecticides
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long pants and shirts
  • Spray your home and walls with repellant insecticides
  • Whenever possible, spray a pest repellent containing DEET on your skin and clothing

Considerations

If you suspect that you have been exposed to malaria or are exhibiting any symptoms, consult your doctor. Prepare for your appointment by making a list of symptoms, when they began, whether you had malaria in the past, and whether you have traveled to a place where malaria is present. Malaria can be fatal and can cause many complications such as:

  • Swelling of the brain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Severe anemia
  • A drop in blood sugar

Malaria is a serious disease borne from infected mosquitoes. If left untreated, malaria can cause severe complications and even death. If you plan to travel to a place where malaria is present, take precautions to protect yourself from exposure to malaria. If you think you are experiencing any symptoms associated with malaria contact your doctor immediately.

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