Malaria – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is malaria?
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by a parasite. This infectious disease is caused by a Plasmodium type parasite. It is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected mosquitoes. People affected by this disease experience high fevers, shaking chills, flu-like symptoms, and anemia. If left untreated, it can cause severe complications leading to death.
What causes malaria?
Malaria is caused by a parasite that is passed to humans by the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. After infection, the parasites (called sporozoites) travel through the bloodstream to the liver, where they mature and release another form of parasites, called merozoites. The parasites enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells. The parasites multiply inside the red blood cells, which then break open within 48 to 72 hours, infecting more red blood cells.
Malaria can also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn baby (congenitally) and by blood transfusions. Malaria can be carried by mosquitoes in temperate climates, but the parasite disappears over the winter.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
The first symptoms usually occur 10 days to 4 weeks after infection, though they can appear as early as 8 days or as long as a year after infection. The symptoms occur in cycles of 48 to 72 hours.
Most symptoms are caused by:
- The release of merozoites into the bloodstream
- Anemia resulting from the destruction of the red blood cells
- Large amounts of free hemoglobin being released into circulation after red blood cells break open
The following are the common symptoms of malaria:
- Anemia (condition in which the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells)
- Bloody stools
- Chills, fever, sweating
- A headache
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and vomiting
How is malaria diagnosed?
During a physical examination, the doctor may find an enlarged liver or enlarged spleen.
The doctor may do the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- Rapid diagnostic test (RDT)
- Malaria blood smears taken at 6 to 12-hour intervals to confirm the diagnosis
- A complete blood count (CBC) to identify anemia if it is present
How is malaria treated?
Malaria, especially falciparum malaria, is a medical emergency that requires a hospital stay. Chloroquine is often used as an anti-malarial drug. But chloroquine-resistant infections are common in some parts of the world. The choice of drug depends, in part, on where you got the infection.
The following are the possible treatments for chloroquine-resistant infections:
- Artemisinin derivative combinations, including artemether and lumefantrine
- Quinine-based regimen, in combination with doxycycline or clindamycin
- Mefloquine, in combination with artesunate or doxycycline
Intravenous fluids and other drugs and breathing (respiratory) support are also given.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.