Patient's Complete Guide to Malaria

Overview of Malaria

Malaria (ملیریا بخار/Malaria bukhar) is a life-threatening disease. It’s 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 cycles that last two to three days at a time.

Occurrence of Malaria

Malaria is typically found in tropical and subtropical climates where the parasites can live. The World Health Organization (WHO)  states that, in 2016, there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria in 91 countries.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 1,700 cases of malaria annually. Most cases of malaria develop in people who travel to countries where malaria is more common.

Signs and Symptoms of Malaria

Some common signs and symptoms of malaria are: 

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain and fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting

Some other signs and symptoms can be:

  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Sweating
  • Cough

Malaria signs and symptoms usually appear within a few weeks after being bitten by the infected anopheles’ mosquito.

 

Causes of Malaria

Malaria is caused by the bite of a parasite-infected mosquito. 

Mode of Transmission

After feeding on a person having malaria a mosquito becomes infected. When the mosquito bites another person, it transmits the parasite. Once entered the body, some parasites remain dormant in the liver. After that, the mature parasite enters the bloodstream and attacks the RBCs. During this, malaria symptoms start to appear.

Other Modes of Transmission

As malaria is transmitted through the blood a person can also be infected from exposure to infected blood, such as:

  • From mother to unborn child
  • By sharing needles used to inject drugs
  • Through blood transfusions

Risk Factors of Malaria

If you live in or travel to a region where malaria is common, your chances of developing malaria are increased. Malaria parasites exist in different forms. Malaria causing parasites mostly exist in regions such as: 

  • African countries south of the Sahara Desert
  • New Guinea, the Dominican Republic and Haiti
  • The Asian subcontinent

People who are at high risks of developing the serious disease include:

  • Young children and infants
  • Travellers coming from areas with no malaria
  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women and their unborn children
  • Poverty and lack of knowledge

Health-Related Complications of Malaria

In most cases, malaria deaths occur due to some serious complications such as:

  • Breathing Problems: Pulmonary oedema is one of the serious complications of malaria. In this condition, lungs are filled with fluid that makes breathing difficult.
  • Cerebral Malaria: Cerebral malaria occurs if infected blood cells accumulated in the small blood vessels of your brain. In this condition, your brain may swell or be damaged. Some common symptoms of cerebral malaria are seizures and coma.
  • Organ Failure: Untreated malaria can lead to serious problems such as kidney or liver damage and spleen rupture. These complications can be life-threatening.
  • Anaemia: In malaria red blood cells are damaged which results in anaemia. Anaemia is a condition in which the supply of oxygen to your tissues is not enough. This condition can make you tired or weak. 
  • Low Blood Sugar: Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is another complication of malaria. This condition is caused by quinine-used for the treatment of malaria. This condition can result in a coma or death.

Prevention

Malaria is caused by mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are usually active between dusk and dawn. To protect yourself from mosquito bites, you should: 

  • Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts to cover your skin.
  • Use a bed net, especially those treated with insecticide to prevent mosquito bites during sleep.

 

Rub your skin and clothing with insect repellants.

 

Diagnosis

To diagnose malaria, your doctor will inquire about your medical history and perform a physical exam. After this, blood tests will be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Through blood tests the doctor can determine: 

  • The presence of the parasite in the blood, to confirm that you have malaria
  • Type of malaria parasite
  • If the parasite is drug-resistant

Some other blood tests are also performed to the complications of malaria if present. Some blood tests can be completed in 10-15 minutes while others may take several days to complete.

Treatment of Malaria | When to Consult a Doctor

Malaria can be treated by prescribed drugs to kill the parasite. The types of medicines and the treatment duration can vary, depending on:

  • Type of parasite 
  • The severity of symptoms
  • Pregnancy
  • Age

Medications

The most common drugs used for malaria treatment may include:

-Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs): ACTs are the first choice for the treatment of malaria. ACTs are available in several different forms. Examples include: 

  • artemether-lumefantrine (Coartem) 
  • artesunate-amodiaquine

Each drug treats the infection in a different way.

-Chloroquine Phosphate: if the parasite is drug-resistant, chloroquine is the preferred treatment. But in many regions, the malarial parasites have developed resistance against chloroquine, and the drug’s efficiency is reduced.

Other common drugs for parasites may include:

  • atovaquone and proguanil (Malarone)
  • Mefloquine
  • Quinine sulfate (Qualaquin) with doxycycline
  • Primaquine phosphate

Consult your doctor if you feel fever while living in or after travelling from a region where malaria is common. Malaria parasites can remain dormant in the body. If you experience severe symptoms, seek medical care as soon as possible.

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