Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasites (plasmodia malaria), which are transmitted from a patient to a healthy person through the bites of malaria mosquitoes. The disease is most common in countries with a tropical climate.
The disease begins with malaise, weakness, headache, pain in the muscles, joints, lower back, dry mouth, then a patient complaints of a sharp increase in temperature, vomiting, digestive upset, cough, disorders of the nervous and other body systems. The disease can result in death without timely treatment.
Current epidemic situation
Malaria is home to 2.4 billion people, or 40% of the world’s population.
Every year, 300-600 million people become infected with malaria, and according to the WHO, this figure is increasing by 16% annually. From 1.5 to 3 million people die each year from malaria (15 times more than from AIDS). Over the past decade, malaria came out on top among infectious diseases (after pneumonia and tuberculosis).
More than 100 countries, half of which are located in Africa, are malaria-deficient. Other foci of mass disease are India, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Colombia.
The causative agent of malaria and its development
The source of the causative agent of malaria is a sick person or parasitic carrier. Mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles are the carrier. The body of mosquitoes that have drunk the blood of a sick person contains a large number of active malarial parasites. When an infected malaria mosquito bites a person, the parasites first enter the bloodstream and then into the cells of the human liver.
In humans, there are five forms of malaria caused by the corresponding type of malarial plasmodium.
At first, malaria may look like a cold. The following symptoms may appear in patients:
- Muscle pain;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- General weakness and discomfort.
The first symptoms of malaria can appear as early as 6 days after the bite. In some cases, however, symptoms may develop one month after returning from the outbreak of malaria.
If complications develop, malaria can quickly move from cold-like symptoms to deadly ones. Complications may include acute renal failure, anemia, coma, low blood sugar, problems with breathing and spleen, low blood pressure, jaundice, and seizures.
A patient with malaria may first have mild symptoms, and then the condition may suddenly become seriously worse. This can be terrible pain, trouble breathing, or sudden seizures. If this happens, the patient needs emergency medical care.
After the first symptoms, some malaria parasites may remain in the liver and may cause relapse every few years. If you even have mild symptoms after returning from the focus of malaria, you must consult a doctor since malaria requires the right treatment.
Who is at increased risk for malaria infection?
About half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria.
- Persons making international trips from non-endemic areas due to their lack of immunity;
- Immigrants from endemic areas and their children: living in non-endemic areas and returning to their home countries in order to visit friends and relatives, these people are also at risk for weakening or lack of immunity;
- Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, Latin America and, to a lesser extent, the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. In 2011, the transmission of malaria continued in 99 countries and territories.
High-risk populations include:
- Young children who have not yet developed protective immunity against the most severe forms of the disease (in areas of sustained transmission of infection);
- Non-immune pregnant women: due to the fact that malaria leads to a large number of miscarriages and can lead to maternal death;
- Partially immunized pregnant women: in areas with high transmission, malaria can lead to miscarriages and the birth of low birth weight babies, especially in cases of first and second pregnancies;
- Partially immune HIV-infected pregnant women: in areas with the sustained transmission, these women are at increased risk of malaria during all pregnancies. In addition, in cases of placental malaria infection, there is an increased risk of HIV transmission from mothers to newborns;
- People with HIV / AIDS;
- Persons making international trips from non-endemic areas due to their lack of immunity;
- Endemic immigrants and their children: living in non-endemic areas and returning to their home countries in order to visit friends and relatives, these people are also at risk for weakening or lack of immunity.
Types of malaria
There are four forms of the disease: a three-day form, four-day malaria, ovale malaria, and tropical malaria.
All these forms have their own characteristics, but the general characteristics for each species are fever, anemia, and enlargement of the liver and spleen.
- Three-day malaria. Before the onset of the malaria attacks, a headache, weakness, nausea, and sharp back pain appear. The disease begins acutely. In the early days, the fever is wrong. After this, an intermittent-type fever occurs, with a constant alternation of malaria attacks every other day. A malaria attack is characterized by a pronounced change in the main stages of heat and chills, excessive sweating. The heat lasts about four to six hours, however, there are cases when the heat lasts up to twelve hours and is replaced by sharp sweating;
- Malaria ovale. This type of malaria is similar to three-day malaria, but the main difference is the milder course of ovale malaria in contrast to three-day malaria. Feverish attacks can occur every other day, and mainly in the evening. Relapses can be early and distant. The disease can last from three to four years;
- Four-day malaria. The spleen is enlarged moderately, in rare cases, anemia can develop. This form of the disease is characterized by a very low parasitemia, even at those moments when malaria is acute. Four-day malaria is characterized by a long course, from five to fifty years. During this time, plasmodia “live” in human blood, where a weak process of schizogony of an erythrocytic character proceeds;
- Tropical malaria. The incubation period can last at least a week, however, it can take up to two weeks. By the end of the incubation period, prodromal phenomena in the form of malaise and headache, fatigue begin. Vomiting and nausea, loss of appetite and chills may occur. An irregular type of fever occurs. Tropical malaria differs from other species: it does not have chills and increased sweating characteristic of malaria, pain in the joints and muscles is practically absent.
Malaria is diagnosed with a blood test. If you are bitten by a mosquito in the place where malaria is common and then you have a fever, you must consult a doctor who will conduct a blood test. Such an analysis will show if you have malaria in a few minutes (and even what kind of parasite caused it). The doctor will then conduct further tests to see if the disease has affected your internal organs (such as your kidneys or spleen).
If you have been diagnosed with malaria, your doctor will suggest a course of medication. Doctors will monitor your condition and course of the disease to prevent complications. Your doctor will advise you on how not to transfer malaria to other people, for example, not to donate blood.
One of the problems with diagnosing malaria is that it has very non-specific first symptoms. Anyone with a fever or chills may suggest that he has a simple cold. They would rather decide that they won’t go to the doctor. Even doctors may not immediately suspect malaria, especially in countries where the cases of this disease are quite rare.
It is easy to confuse malaria with another disease, which means patients may not receive timely treatment and spread malaria further. To help doctors, you should remember the symptoms of malaria. If you traveled to a country where malaria is a common thing and then you experienced a fever, immediately consult a doctor and tell him/her what country you have traveled to.
If you have been diagnosed with malaria, it is important to get the right therapy right away. Without treatment, the patient’s condition will quickly become worse. If complications develop, malaria can even lead to death. Children, the elderly and those who have serious illnesses have an increased risk of not managing malaria on their own.
Malaria parasites attack red blood cells, resulting in intense heat, which will be difficult to lower. Pregnant women also have a danger of not coping with the disease, which can lead to the birth of a child with low weight and other complications.
If you have been diagnosed with malaria, you will probably be prescribed one of the following medicines:
- Quinine Sulfate;
- Atovaquone and proguanil;
Therapy depends on your medical history, symptoms, and the type of malaria parasite you have. During pregnancy, some antimalarial drugs can not be taken at all.
A big problem in the treatment of malaria is that these parasites have become resistant to medications, so sometimes you have to change medications during treatment if they do not work or if your condition worsens. Doctors will definitely work on your treatment until they find the right medication.
There is no vaccine for this disease, although scientists are working on its invention. But scientists agree on one thing: to prevent malaria, mosquito bites should be avoided. To protect your family from malaria, you can do the following:
- Before traveling, check for malaria outbreaks at your destination. Check out the malaria risk map on the disease control center website to learn about malaria in different countries. Remember, even if you travel to a country where malaria is prevalent, the risk of getting infected will be much lower if you go there in colder weather;
- If you plan a trip to a place where there are cases of malaria, consult your doctor about a month before. Despite the fact that there is no vaccine for malaria, there are medicines that can help in prevention. The same medicines that are used to treat malaria will help you protect yourself from these parasites;
- If you need to visit a country where cases of malaria are not uncommon, take the prophylactic medicines prescribed by your doctor, take the course in advance. Remember that medications have different standards and there are frequent cases of fakes, be careful in choosing medications;
- Do your best to avoid mosquito bites. Use mosquito nets on windows and doors to prevent mosquitoes from entering your house or hotel room;
- Avoid being outdoors in hot weather. Mosquitoes are most active in the evening and at dawn;
- Additional precautions must be taken during pregnancy. Avoid traveling to countries where malaria is a common disease. The disease is especially dangerous for pregnant women;
- Wear protective clothing. When traveling to places where there are outbreaks of malaria, wear light clothing, sleeves and pants should be long, you need to cover your skin and wear hats as much as possible, this will help avoid bites;
- At night, you need to cover the bed with mosquito nets soaked with repellents, so that mosquitoes do not bite you at night. It is useful to do this at home, but it is especially important to do this when traveling to the countryside with a high concentration of malaria parasites;
- Remove stagnant water near your home. Rain barrels, ponds, puddles, swamps and any object on which water can accumulate can be a great place for mosquitoes to breed. If you remove stagnant water or protect yourself from such places, the number of mosquitoes and the number of their bites will decrease significantly;
- Cut the plants and grass well in the area. Shady places with moist soil attract mosquitoes, as well as tall grass. Do not forget to cut the lawn and trees so that no mosquito can hide in your yard;
- Use mosquito control methods. Use electric traps, repellents or candles with citronella;
- Add some smoke. Resting on the street, you can light a fire – most insects do not like smoke.
If you have done everything possible, but you have been bitten by a mosquito and after that you have colds-like symptoms, be sure to consult a doctor immediately. Without treatment, you can help spread the disease and your health can be seriously affected.