Malaria — Symptoms, causes, treatment, prevention and diet

Malaria

Overview

Malaria is a vector-borne disease that spreads through Anopheles mosquitoes. It may seem like a simple fever but if untreated, it can cause detrimental effects to your health. 

Generally, the burden of malaria is not evenly distributed. It has a high prevalence in areas with higher humidity and moisture that facilitates the growth of mosquitoes.

Malaria is nothing but the infection caused due to Plasmodium parasites, which individuals get through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

The two most dangerous parasite species, P. falciparum and P. vivax, are the two primary causes of malaria.

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Some of the initial signs of malaria includes fever, chills and headache. Malaria typically affects the body 12 to 15 days after the infecting insect bite. Especially, if P. falciparum malaria is not treated well, it can lead to severe sickness and death in less than 24 hours.

Infants, young children, pregnant women, persons with HIV/AIDS, as well as anyone with low immunity should avoid going to places with high malaria transmission rates.

Types of Malaria 

Malaria is neither a bacterial nor a viral disease. It is caused by a parasitic microorganism known as Plasmodium. Plasmodium is a single-celled parasite that is usually borne by mosquitoes.

Plasmodium parasites are responsible for causing malaria in humans. They are:

Plasmodium falciparum 

Plasmodium falciparum parasite has the highest mortality rate. This species’ unique virulence results severe health hazards to the people with poor immunity.

Plasmodium malariae

The parasitic protozoan Plasmodium malariae is what causes malaria in people. It is one of numerous Plasmodium parasite species, including Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, which cause the majority of malarial infections by infecting other organisms as pathogens.

Plasmodium vivax

A protozoal parasite and human pathogen is called Plasmodium vivax. This parasite is one of the crucial causes of prevalent and extensively dispersed cause of recurrent malaria.

Although P. vivax is not as deadly as Plasmodium falciparum, it can cause serious illness and death, frequently because of splenomegaly (a pathologically enlarged spleen).

Plasmodium ovale

There are four known kinds of malaria parasites that infect people. Plasmodium ovale was the latest of them to be identified and characterised. This parasite is exclusively spread by the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes.

Plasmodium knowlesi

Over the past two decades, Plasmodium knowlesi, a zoonotic malaria parasite, has drawn growing medical attention. In Southeast Asia, this zoonotic parasite infection is common and contributes to several cases of malignant diseases.

Plasmodium Knowlesi malaria cases have been documented in several regions of the world as a result of travel and tourist activities, despite a number of biogeographical constraints.

Of the above species, malaria is most commonly caused by P. vivax. However, the real threat is posed by P. falciparum that can kill a person if untreated. The other species also cause illness but they are not lethal. 

Symptoms of Malaria

The time taken by your body to show symptoms depends on the activity of the parasites inside you. Some parasites may enter your body and lie dormant for years. In that case, even if you get bitten by a female anopheles mosquito, you will not develop any symptoms. 

When the plasmodium becomes active and enters your bloodstream, the symptoms will start. Usually, the symptoms will begin within a few weeks from the mosquito bites. 

Some  symptoms of malaria include:

Fever 

Patients initially have symptoms that resemble fever, chills, sweating, headaches and weakness. Later, a serious illness might manifest itself with multisystem failure, severe anaemia, aberrant levels of awareness, and renal failure.

Chills 

Chills for Malaria

Typically, malaria begins with chills and shivering and then a high fever, followed by perspiration and a return to normal body temperature. Typically, a few weeks after being bitten by an infected insect, malaria signs and symptoms appear.

Headache 

Headache is a significant malarial symptom. The cytokine is thought to play a significant role in acute malaria headaches. Headaches can be brought on by some antimalarial medicines. Additionally, one sign of postmalaria neurologic condition is headache.

Diarrhea 

There aren’t many records on the incidence of diarrhoea caused by malaria, although it’s believed that youngsters and nonimmune adults with hyperparasitaemia are more likely to have it.

Muscle or joint pain

Malaria appears to target the skeletal muscle system among its many consequences, resulting in symptoms such muscular pains, muscle contractures, muscle fatigue, muscle discomfort and muscle weakening.

Anemia

Anemia can be brought on by the malaria parasite’s destruction of red blood cells. Red blood cells that are anaemic are unable to transport adequate oxygen to the body’s muscles and organs. This could make you feel weak, dizzy and faint.

Rapid breathing 

Malaria’s early signs can include irritability, sleepiness, poor appetite, and difficulty sleeping. Typically, chills accompany along with rapid breathing incase if a person has malaria.

Cough 

Patients with severe malaria and those with uncomplicated malaria coughed almost equally frequently, but it went away after two weeks of treatment. Patients with both severe and mild malaria had considerably higher respiratory rates upon presentation.

Some people may cyclically experience some of these symptoms. For example, you experience severe fever along with chills for a couple of days, followed by diarrhea, then you sweat profusely and then you return to normal temperature. 

It is advisable to go to the hospital if you experience any of the listed symptoms continuously. Usually, the doctor would prescribe a blood test to check and confirm the disease. 

How does malaria affect you?

Generally, female Anopheles mosquitoes, upon biting a person, infect that person with plasmodium. These plasmodium parasites enter the human body and multiply in the red blood cells and the intestines.

Some parasites remain dormant in the liver, while most of them enter your bloodstream. It then enters into your red blood cells and multiplies inside them. As a result, your red blood cells burst open. This is when you start to experience the symptoms of malaria. 

Is malaria contagious?

Malaria-causing parasites are usually borne by female anopheles mosquitoes. However, it doesn’t mean that malaria cannot be spread through other means.

 This disease is transmitted by blood. So, in the following ways, it can transmit:

  • through blood transfusion
  • through organ transplantation
  • using shared syringes and needles
  • from mother to child

But malaria is not a contagious disease. It cannot spread through the air or any other body fluids. It cannot be transmitted through sexual contact either. 

One of the common misconceptions is that this disease transmits to a person if he/she has physical contact with the malaria-affected person. Well, this is not true, as malaria can only be transmitted by blood. 

Diagnosis of Malaria

Your doctor will require your recent medical history and may suggest some physical tests along with a blood test. Your doctor will also find out if you have developed an enlarged liver or spleen. 

These tests show the type of malaria from which you get affected and how severe it is. Your doctor will also be able to identify if the disease-causing parasite is resistant to the drugs, if the disease has affected any of your vital organs or if it has caused anemia. 

Based on the types of malaria and their symptoms, your doctor will suggest medications and treatments. In some cases, the parasites such as P. vivax and P. ovale lie dormant in your liver for years and reactivate at any time. 

Doctors, upon identifying such parasites will prescribe medications to prevent the occurrence of this disease from dormant parasites in the future.

Clinical Diagnosis 

A drop of the patient’s blood spread out as a “blood smear” on a microscope slide can be used to identify malaria parasites. The material is stained before examination in order to give the parasites a unique appearance.

Microscopic Diagnosis 

Microscopy with the visualisation of Giemsa-stained parasites in a blood sample is the gold standard for the diagnosis of malaria. The four species of human malaria parasites and the infected red blood cells are analysed morphologically to determine the species.

Antigen Detection 

Malaria antigen detection tests are a class of commercially available rapid diagnostic tests that enable prompt malaria diagnosis. 

Molecular Diagnosis 

Common PCR methods for diagnosing malaria include multiplex PCR, nested PCR, conventional PCR and qPCR.

Treatment of malaria

The following are some of the treatments given for the treatment of malaria.

Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) 

Due to their great efficacy, tolerability and capacity to stop ongoing parasite transmission, artemisinin-based combination treatments (ACTs) are the first-line treatment that is used to cure malaria.

Atovaquone (Mepron) 

Mepron is a prescription drug used to treat the signs and symptoms of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and malaria (P. falciparum). Mepron may be taken either by alone or with other drugs. Mepron is a member of the antimalarial drug subclass.

Chloroquine 

Chloroquine is one of the medicinal drugs that is used as an antimalarials. It functions by preventing or treating malaria, an infection of the red blood cells spread by a mosquito bite.

Mefloquine 

Mefloquine kills the parasites that are introduced into your body by infected mosquito bites.

Quinine 

Plasmodium falciparum malaria is treated with quinine. Malaria is brought on by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, which enters the body through the red blood cells. Quinine functions by either eliminating the parasite or halting its growth.

Primaquine 

Infections with Plasmodium vivax contribute significantly to the global burden of malaria. Primaquine (given at a dose of 15 mg/day for adults) is advised by the World Health Organization for a 14-day course to eliminate the parasite’s liver stage and avoid relapse of the illness.

Prevention of Malaria

The following are some of the preventive measures taken to eliminate the spread of malaria.

Apply insect repellent

Try to apply repellants to exposed skin. Avoid getting any on your eyes or lips. Spray on hands first, then apply to face when using sprays. Avoid spraying directly into the face.

Spray an insecticide

insecticide image for malaria

A lesser number of mosquitoes enter the house and try to feed on people inside due to the insecticides’ ability to repel them. Additionally, mosquito populations and lifespans will be decreased if high community coverage is attained.

Spray pyrethrin 

Some chrysanthemum blooms naturally contain pyrethrins, a type of pesticide. They consist of a blend of six poisonous compounds for insects. Pyrethrins are frequently used to manage pests such as ants, fleas, flies, moths, mosquitoes and fleas.

Keep your home and surroundings clean

Keep the windows open and keep your house dry, clean, and hygienic. This would greatly aid in preventing mosquito entrance. Use disinfectants to clean your home and toilets, such as phenyl, dettol, etc.

Anti-malarial tablets 

Antimalarial medications are used to treat and ward off malarial illness. The majority of antimalarial medications focus on the erythrocytic stage of the disease, which is the stage of infection that results in clinical illness.

Summing up

There is no doubt that malaria is a serious threat if left untreated. But this is a disease that can be highly prevented and the deaths due to it can highly be reduced with proper preventive measures and effective treatments.

Although the threat of malaria is higher in tropical areas, it doesn’t mean that this disease will not affect other places of the globe. With global warming and uncertainties in climate, the threat of malaria can spread to other places as well.

However, humans have succeeded in eliminating various life-threatening diseases. Malaria can also go under this list if collective hygiene, effective preventive measures and proper treatments are in place.

FAQ

What is malaria?  

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is preventable and curable.

Is it true that I can get malaria from drinking?

The malaria parasite can only reproduce in blood and you can’t catch it from drinking water. However, dirty water can carry other dangerous diseases, such as yellow fever or typhoid.

What are the signs and symptoms of malaria?

Most people, at the beginning of the disease, have fever, sweats, chills, headaches, malaise, muscles aches, nausea and vomiting. Malaria can very rapidly become a severe and life-threatening disease.


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The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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