What is malaria?
Malaria is a serious infection- caused by a parasite called plasmodium. It is common in tropical countries such as parts of Africa, Asia and South America. A parasite is an organism that lives on an animal and feeds from it. The parasite is passed to humans from a mosquito bite.
There are four type of Plasmodium that causes Malaria
1 plasmodium vivax- which is most commoon
2 plamodium ovale
3 plasmodium malariae
4 plasmodium falciparum- most serious
How is malaria transmitted?
The plasmodium parasite is usually transmitted by a particular type of mosquito, which is the anopheles mosquito. If a female anopheles mosquito bites a person who is infected with malaria, the mosquito can then carry the plasmodium parasite and spread it to others.
When the plasmodium parasite enters your blood, it travels to your liver and then re-enters the bloodstream where it can invade your red blood cells. Eventually, these infected red blood cells burst which leads to them releasing even more of the tiny parasites into your blood. These infected red blood cells tend to burst every 48-72 hours. Each time they burst, you will usually experience an episode of chills, fever and sweating.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
There are two general types of malaria: benign and malignant. Benign malaria is milder and relatively easy to treat. Malignant malaria can be very severe and can sometimes be fatal.
Symptoms of malaria usually occur between one to four weeks after the initial mosquito bite. However, in some cases, depending on the type of plasmodium you are infected with, it can take up to a year before any symptoms start to show. This means that you should suspect malaria in anyone with a feverish illness who has travelled to a malaria area within the past year, especially in the previous three months.
The most common symptom of benign malaria is a high fever. However, the absence of fever in an ill person does not exclude the diagnosis of malaria.
Other symptoms of benign malaria may include:
- Headaches, muscle pains, abdominal pains, cough, feeling more tired than usual and feeling generally unwell.
- Children are more tired and can have diarrhoea and/or vomiting.
- The fever in most people has no specific pattern and may present 1-2 days after the symptoms start. If the malaria infection becomes established, then malarial symptoms can come in cycles, occurring every 2-3 days .
Malignant malaria is caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Malignant malaria usually begins with similar symptoms to benign malaria, but will often lead to your developing further complications, such as breathing problems, liver failure and shock. Malignant malaria can also affect the brain and central nervous system which can even lead to death.
How is malaria diagnosed?
If you think you may have malaria then you need to seek medical advice without delay. If you have travelled to an area in which there is malaria in the past year then you may be at risk of this disease, even if you took anti-malarial medication when you were abroad.
Your doctor will perform a blood test. The blood sample will be sent to the laboratory and will be examined for the presence of the malaria parasite. The type of malaria causing the infection will also be determined. If the first blood test is negative but your doctor suspects you have malaria, then you may be asked to have another blood test taken a couple of days later.
How is malaria treated?
If malaria is promptly diagnosed and treated, most people make a full recovery. Malaria is normally treated using anti-malarial medicines. Quinine, chlroquine and artesunate are some of the different types of medicines available.
The type of medicine prescribed and the duration of treatment can vary from person to person. It depends on various factors such as the type of malaria that you have, if you have taken any anti-malarial medication when you were travelling, and the severity of your symptoms. If your symptoms are mild then you will be treated at home. However, if you have Plasmodium falciparum malaria then it is very likely you will be treated and monitored in hospital.
Some people are given more than one type of medication or an alternative medication if they develop side-effects to a medication. Resistance to anti-malarial medicines has spread rapidly over the past few decades, especially resistance to Plasmodium falciparum. This means that newer medicines or a combination of medicines may be given.
If the first anti-malarial medicine that you are prescribed fails to improve your symptoms, you may have to try a variety of other medicines as part of your treatment. You may find that your treatment for malaria leaves you feeling very weak and tired for several weeks afterwards.
Travellers going to remote places far from medical facilities sometimes take emergency medication with them. This can be used to treat suspected malaria until proper medical care is available.
How can malaria be prevented?
There is an ‘ABCD’ of malaria prevention. This is:
- Awareness of risk of malaria.
- Bite prevention.
- Chemoprophylaxis (taking anti-malarial medication regularly and exactly as prescribed).
- prompt Diagnosis and treatment.
What should I do if I think I have malaria?
If you develop a fever at any time while in a country where malaria is present, seek urgent medical attention (ideally within 24 hours). If you get any symptoms that could be malaria within a year of returning from a malaria zone, see your GP as soon as possible. It’s important to remember that you can still get malaria even if you have taken medicines to prevent it.
Can I catch malaria from an infected person?
No, you can’t catch malaria directly from another person who has the infections. It’s spread by infected mosquitoes. However, although it’s much less common, malaria can also be transmitted through a blood transfusion from an infected person.
Is it possible to make a full recovery from malaria?
Yes, it’s likely that you will recover fully from malaria.
Can the symptoms of malaria reoccur after I have been treated?
Yes, it’s possible that your symptoms may come back. However, if you have received the correct treatment, it’s unlikely.
Can I give blood if I have recently been to an area where malaria is common?
You will have to wait six months after returning from an area with malaria before you can give blood.
How long does it take to recover?
The time it takes to recover from malaria varies from person to person. However, if you get prompt treatment, you’re likely to start feeling better within a couple of days of starting it.