• Rukmani Birla Hospital,Gopalpura Bypass Road, Near Triveni Bridge,Gopalpura,Jaipur – 302018.

MALARIA: CAUSES, SYMPTOMS, TREATMENT, PREVENTION, COMPLICATIONS, AND VACCINES

Malaria is life-threatening, mosquito-borne disease which is caused by a parasite transmitted to humans via bites of infected mosquitoes belonging to the Anopheles species. The parasites that are responsible for spreading malaria are from the genus Plasmodium. Upon the bite of the mosquito, the parasites are released into the bloodstream from where they travel to the liver and mature. Post maturity, these parasites enter the blood and start infecting the red blood cells; then within 72 hours these parasites multiply bursting the infected red blood cells. Simultaneously, these parasites continue to infect the red blood cells causing symptoms for Malaria that occur in cycles for about two to three days at a particular time. Malaria transfers to another person, when an uninfected mosquito bites an infected person, and in turn bites an uninfected person transmitting the parasite.

In spite of the widespread efforts made for spreading awareness about Malaria, it remains one of the most common diseases with more than 200 million cases recorded each year on an average worldwide.

Causes of Malaria

Malaria occurs when a mosquito containing the Plasmodium parasite bites a person. Particularly, there are four types of parasites that can cause Malaria:

  • Plasmodium vivax
  • ovale
  • malariae
  • falciparum (most severe form of malaria)

Malaria can be transmitted by blood and hence, an organ transplant, transfusion or use of shared syringes can lead to a person being affected by Malaria. Malaria can also be passed on by the mother to the child upon giving birth.

Symptoms of Malaria

Symptoms of Malaria depend on case-to-case; whereas on a general level the symptoms start to show within 10 days to 30 days after the infection. However, in some cases, the symptoms might not show for several months because of the parasite lying dormant in the body.  Some common symptoms of Malaria include:

  • Severe or moderate chills
  • High fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Intense headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Diarrhoea
  • Anaemia
  • Acute muscle or joint pain
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Blood in stool
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Cough

Some people experience symptoms of malaria in cycles such as chills followed by fever then sweating and normal temperature.

Treatment of Malaria

Malaria can be life-threatening especially if the parasite involved is P.falciparum. However, in general cases, proper and timely medical treatment can cure malaria easily without causing any long-term complications.

Treatment for each patient depends on the severity of the case and the type of parasite that has caused the infection. As per WHO the best available treatment for uncomplicated malaria is artemisnin-based combination therapy (ACT), which rapidly minimizes the presence of the parasite in the bloodstream. While ACT has been increasingly used for treatment of malaria worldwide, but the disease has increasingly developed resistant to the drug. ACT is used in combination with a partner drug, which may work in cases where parasite becomes resistant to the effects of ACT.

All malaria cases need to be first confirmed via a parasite-based diagnostic test before any treatment.

Other medications that have been used to treat malaria include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Doxycycline
  • Quinine
  • Mefloquine
  • Malarone
  • Artemether
  • Primaquine Phosphate

That said, malaria can relapse in cases where the parasite specifically P.vivax and P.ovale hibernate in the liver and activate themselves months or weeks after the patient is symptom free.

However, any course of treatment should be undertaken only after proper consultation and testing from a certified medical practitioner.

Prevention of Malaria

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent the infection but it can be barred by proper precautions – the prime being prevention of mosquito bites through following methods:

  • Sleeping under mosquito nets
  • Wearing clothes that cover the skin completely
  • Wearing light-coloured clothes
  • Wearing closed shoes
  • Using mosquito repellents
  • Use room sprays and insecticides containing DEET
  • Staying indoors
  • Using air conditioners to keep the mosquitoes away

Moreover, if you are travelling, ensure to check with your doctor about preventive measures to avoid the risk of malaria. Also, check the spread of malaria in the country you are travelling to and accordingly make an informed choice.

Complications of Malaria

Malaria can be fatal depending on the type of parasite and the severity of the infection. Some of the complications that may arise in cases of malaria include:

Cerebral Malaria: In case the parasite infected red blood cells block the blood flow to the brain, it may cause the brain to swell leading to brain damage. A person suffering from cerebral malaria may experience seizures or go into coma.

Breathing Issues: Accumulation of fluids in the lungs can cause difficulty in breathing.

Organ Failure: Acute malaria cases can cause the spleen to rupture or damage the kidney and liver, leading to a major life threat.

Anaemia: The infection of red blood cells can cause severe case of anaemia.

Low Blood Sugar: Some forms of malaria, as well as a commonly used medication – quinine – to treat malaria, can lower the blood glucose level of the body and result in coma or sudden death.

Vaccines of Malaria

As of today, there are no vaccines to prevent malaria. However, trials are ongoing and it is expected that a promising drug should be in the market soon.

That said, even though malaria is life-threatening but it is highly preventable and curable, provided there is proper awareness about the disease, preventive measures, symptoms, and treatment.

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