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Key Information About Malaria

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Malaria is a disease that is caused by sporozoan parasites (genus Plasmodium) in the red blood cells.

Every 2 minutes, a child dies of malaria. Each year, more than 200 million new cases are reported.

Where is malaria found?

Annually, there are more than 600,000 deaths from malaria worldwide, with 90 percent occurring in Africa. It remains one of the most serious global health problems.

A strain of malaria resistant to two key anti-malarial medicines became dominant in Vietnam, Laos and northern Thailand in July 2019 after spreading rapidly from Cambodia.

Using genomic surveillance to track the spread of drug-resistant malaria, the scientists found that the strain, known as KEL1/PLA1, had evolved and picked up new genetic mutations making it more resistant.

Malaria Parasite Life Cycle

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Causes

Malaria can occur if a mosquito infected with the Plasmodium parasite bites you. This parasite is spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes, which are known as "night-biting" mosquitoes because 70-80 percent of these insects bite between dusk and dawn.

Around 20-30 per cent of mosquitoes that carry malaria-causing parasites bite during the day inside human dwellings, according to a study that was published in PNAS.

Approximately 40 Anopheles species are able to transmit malaria well enough to cause significant human illness and death.

Ways you can catch the disease from a person is through blood transfusions, shared needles, from mother to child in "congenital malaria," or organ transplants.

Scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Montpeller discovered (in October 2019) how the world's deadliest malaria parasite managed to jump from gorillas to humans by resurrecting a 50,000-year-old gene sequence.

Electron Micrograph of Malaria Parasite

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Vulnerable Groups

Two groups most vulnerable to malaria are young children, who have not yet developed immunity to the disease; and pregnant women, whose immunity has decreased because they are expecting.

Types of Malaria Parasites

Plasmodium falciparum

Plasmodium malariae

Plasmodium vivax

Plasmodium ovale

Plasmodium knowlesi

Symptoms

Malaria attack usually starts with shivering and chills, followed by a high fever, followed by sweating and a return to normal temperature.

The same pattern of symptoms — chills, fever, sweating — may repeat every two or three days, depending on which malaria parasite is causing the infection.

Malaria signs and symptoms typically begin within a few weeks after the mosquito bite.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Complications

Malaria can develop to anemia, hypoglycemia, or cerebral malaria, in which capillaries carrying blood to the brain are blocked. Cerebral malaria can cause coma, life-long-learning disabilities, and death.

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Progression of the disease can result in spleen enlargement and liver enlargement. In severe cases it can cause neurological problems.

Prognosis

Plasmodium falciparum infection carries a poor prognosis with a high mortality if untreated, but it has an excellent prognosis if diagnosed early and treated appropriately.

Diagnosis

Malaria parasites can be identified by examining under the microscope a drop of the patient's blood, spread out as a “blood smear” on a microscope slide.

Treatment

"If the illness is diagnosed early and treated, it's totally curable and all malaria parasites can be cleared from the body," said Dr. Edward Ryan, director of global infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Treatment depends on various factors that include severity, Plasmodium species infecting the patient and the potential for drug resistance of species and strains of Plasmodium.

In general, it takes around two weeks of treatment to be cured of this disease. Artemisinin-based combination therapies are used to treat malaria.

In March 2022, Tafenoquine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, was approved for treatment of a strain of malaria called Plasmodium vivax.

Peptide to Treat Malaria

Research scientists Bill J. Baker and colleagues reported in ACS' Journal of Natural that the peptide friomaramide they isolated from the Antarctic sponge Inflatella coelosphaeroides shows promise as a lead for new therapies. This peptide does not harm the liver.

Drug-Resistant Malaria

Scientists in Uganda examined blood samples from patients treated with artemesinin, the main medicine used for malaria in Africa in combination with other drugs.

They found that nearly 20 percent of the samples had genetic changes suggesting the treatment was ineffective.

Prevention

Malaria vaccine RTS,S, that took more than 30 years to be developed and almost USD 1 billion in investment, was first made available in three African countries — Malawi, Ghana and Kenya, as part of children's routine immunisation schedules.

In October 2021, the vaccine was endorsed by WHO for "broad use" in children, making it the first malaria vaccine candidate, and first vaccine to address parasitic infection, to receive this recommendation.

Another vaccine is being developed by Oxford University. BioNTech, creator of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, plans to use the messenger RNA technology it used for the coronavirus for a malaria shot.

Stay in well-screened areas at night. Use a bed-net impregnated with insecticides. Use a mosquito repellent.

Before you travel, check the CDC’s website to see whether your destination is a hotspot for malaria.

You may have to take pills before, during, and after your trip to reduce the risk.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) have developed small molecule compounds that rob mosquitoes of the ability to spread the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

Net laced with chlorfenapyr insecticide causes wing muscle cramps which stop the mosquito from flying, meaning it starves to death.

Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Designed to Halt Malaria Transmission

Summary

Around 90 percent of malaria deaths occur in Africa.

High fever is a symptom of malaria.

Cerebral malaria can cause life-long-learning disabilities.

There is no vaccine for malaria.

Treatment depends on Plasmodium species.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Malaria kills how many people annually?
    • 5,840
    • 584
    • 584,000
    • 58,400
  2. Which among these is a symptom of malaria?
    • Sweating
    • Chills
    • Fever
    • All the above
  3. Malaria can kill.
    • True
    • False
  4. How long does it take to cure malaria?
    • 3 weeks
    • 2 weeks
    • 1 week
    • 4 weeks
  5. Artemisinin-based combination therapies are used to treat malaria.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. 584,000
  2. All the above
  3. True
  4. 2 weeks
  5. True

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Srikanth R

Comments

Srikanth R (author) on July 17, 2019:

Thank you.

Lorna Lamon on July 17, 2019:

It's so important for people to be aware of the dangers of malaria and in particular if travelling. Your article is full of useful advice.

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