Malaria and its Symptoms

What is Malaria?

Malaria is an infectious disease that is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. Usually malaria is caused on being bitten by an infective female Anopheles mosquito. This happens because these mosquitoes are infected through a previous blood meal taken on an infected person. The parasites that cause malaria multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells in our body. Four kinds of malaria parasites can infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae.

How is Malaria transmitted?

As the malaria parasite is found in red blood cells of an infected person, this fatal disease is likely to be transmitted through blood transfusion, organ transplant, or the shared use of needles or syringes contaminated with blood. There are also chances of it being transmitted from a mother to her unborn infant before or during delivery (“congenital” malaria).

What are the Symptoms of Malaria?

Symptoms of malaria infection usually occur within 9 to 14 days. However, it can vary depending on the type of plasmodium that caused the infection. For instance Plasmodium falciparum normally take 7 to 14 days to show symptoms while Plasmodium vivax and ovale normally take 8 to 14 days (but in some cases can survive for some months in the human horst) and Plasmodium malariae 7 to 30 days.

The general symptoms include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • flu-like symptoms

The onset of symptoms varies tremendously and people should not try and diagnose themselves by using any time-frame figures that are listed above. Symptoms of malaria infection are not always dramatic, and can easily be dismissed as unimportant.

Malaria causes a flu-like illness and these would include these following symptoms:

  • rigors
  • sweating
  • tiredness
  • Myalgia (limbs and back)
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhoea
  • loss of appetite
  • orthostatic hypotension
  • slight jaundice
  • enlarged liver and spleen (sometimes not palpable)

The normal treatments for malaria infection are drugs based on quinine, or a combination drug therapy known as ACTs, based on artemisinin (which is expensive).

Even if anti-malarial drugs are consumed it is possible, but not very general, to develop a relapsing type of malaria months for even years after being infected by malaria. The anti-malarial drugs can prevent symptoms of acute malaria from developing, by suppressing the infection in the blood-stream; they however do not prevent relapses of the infection caused by certain strains of the plasmodium parasite which have a persistent liver phase.

The most common type of malaria infection is that of Plasmodium falciparum and this strain does fortunately NOT have a relapsing phase.

The other strains such as Plasmodium vivax, ovale, or malariae can infect the liver and persist in a dormant state for months, or even years after exposure to the infection.

How can it be cured?

A relapse developed is likely to be treated by restraining the acute symptoms with chloroquine and then overcome the liver infection with medication called primaquine.

This medication is more toxic and has more side effects than chloroquine but is a very effective form of treatment.

People with a deficiency of the blood enzyme G6PD are predisposed to reactions from primaquine treatment but such an enzyme blood deficiency is easy to ascertain with a simple blood test before treatment with primaquine is started.

Prevention of malaria infection is better than curing the disease as the infection is becoming increasingly resistant to prescribed drugs.

 

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About Shreya Arora

Media Trainee at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, final year. Aspiring to be a Journalist.

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