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What is Malaria?

Mosquitoes and Disease
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Malaria (literally "bad air") is a serious and possibly fatal disease caused by a parasite found in mosquitoes. Those infected with the parasite can experience high fevers, chills, and other flu-like symptoms. Although it has the potential to be fatal, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.

How is Malaria spread?

A person can get malaria by being bitten by a female mosquito of the Anopheles genus that is infected with the parasite that causes malaria. There are five malarial parasites that can infect humans:

  • Plasmodium falciparum – the parasite that is the cause of the most damaging forms of malaria
  • P. knowlesi – the parasite that generally causes malaria in macaques, but has the potential to infect humans as well.
  • P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae – all cause less serious manifestations of the disease

Mosquitoes (female only) pick up these parasites only if it takes blood from an infected human. This microscopic parasite is ingested along with the blood. The parasites mix with the mosquito's saliva and are injected into the next person the mosquito feeds from.

Symptoms of malaria

The common symptoms of malaria include flu-like symptoms such as chills, sweating, muscle aches, and tiredness, along with a high fever. These symptoms may show up as early as seven days after infection, or as late as one year afterward. It is possible for the disease to cause jaundice (a yellowing of the skin) and anemia because of a loss of red blood cells. Failure to treat malaria quickly can lead to kidney failure, coma, and even death.

Treating malaria

This section is not intended as medical advice nor is it designed to replace medical treatment. If the possibility of infection exists, contact a physician immediately.

Malaria is treated in a variety of ways using a variety of drugs. The type of drug and length of the treatment are determined by

  • The type of malaria (for example, P. falciparum is treated with continuous intravenous infusion, while milder forms are treated orally)
  • The age of the person infected
  • How long the person has been infected
  • How sick the person is at the beginning of treatment

Malaria has been eliminated in the United States and other parts of the world. However, it can still be contracted by unvaccinated people travelling to areas where it is still prevalent, and it can be transferred to others upon return. Though serious and (possibly) fatal, malaria is a disease that is easily treated if caught in the early stages of illness. Always have a checkup for malaria whenever returning from a part of the world where malarial transmission is common.

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