Everything You Want To Know About Malaria
“The malaria parasite has been killing children and sapping the strength of whole populations for tens of thousands of years. It is impossible to calculate the harm malaria has done to the world.” - Bill GatesAccording to WHO, almost half the population on the planet today is at risk of malaria. In 2015, 212 million cases of malaria were reported, and roughly 4,29,000 lives were lost to it. Sadly, young women and children under 5 are most vulnerable to malarial infection and subsequent death. In the same year, that is 2015, 3,00,000 young children died before their 5th birthdays – because of malaria. If this isn’t heartbreaking, then I don’t know what is. According to doctors, effective prevention, early diagnosis, and prompt treatment are the only routes to reduce transmission and prevent deaths.
So, let’s first understand the disease in question.
Facts about malaria
- Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite called parasitic protozoans.
- The disease is most commonly transmitted by an infected female Anopheles mosquito.
- The parasite carried by female mosquito has multiple subspecies.
- Therefore, there are different types of malaria. Each type of parasite causes different incubation period, causes varying severity of symptoms, and responds to different treatments.
- The parasite first travels to a person’s liver and then grows and multiplies there. Post that it travels through the bloodstream and infects and destroys red blood cells.
Causes of malaria
Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite which is carried by female Anopheles mosquito. Since malaria is transmitted by blood, it can be transmitted through organ transplants, transfusions, and infected needles or syringes. An infected mother can also pass the disease to her baby at birth. This is known as congenital malaria.
Symptoms of malaria
Usually, the symptoms of malaria develop within 10 days to 4 weeks following the infection. The incubation period differs depending on the parasite that has infected the person. Some malarial parasites can enter the body and remain dormant for long periods of time; their symptoms appear months after they enter a person’s body.
Types of malaria
Malaria can be classified into two types:
— Complicated malaria
— Uncomplicated malaria
Both complicated and uncomplicated malaria have different symptoms. Let’s try to understand them.
Malaria is considered uncomplicated when the symptoms are present but there are no clinical or laboratory signs to indicate severity or vital organ dysfunction. While symptoms of uncomplicated malaria are non-specific, if you experience the following symptoms, you might have malaria:
—You've got a fever.
—You feel occasional chills that can range from moderate to severe.
—You have regular headaches.
—You have nausea and vomiting, and don’t feel like eating anything.
—You experience weakness and body aches.
—You experience abdominal pain.
—You have loose motions or diarrhoea.
—Your iron levels fall alarmingly low.
—Your stools sometimes have blood in them.
Complicated malaria, also known as severe malaria, is caused by the most dangerous malaria parasite, P. falciparum. The main symptoms of complicated malaria include:
— Severe breathing difficulties
— Low blood sugar levels
— Low haemoglobin levels
— Kidney failure
— Cardiovascular collapse
Diagnosis of malaria
A physical examination is performed to diagnose malaria. Following the exam, the doctor is in a position to determine if you have an enlarged spleen or liver. The doctor may further order additional blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
These tests will confirm:
—If you have malaria.
—What type of malaria you have.
—If the disease has caused anaemia.
—If the disease has affected your vital organs.
How is malaria treated?
Malaria is a fatal disease, especially if it’s caused by P. falciparum. Medications are available for treating malaria. Drugs used to cure malaria differ depending on the parasite that has caused the disease. Most medications are available only as tablets or pills. Intravenous treatment with quinidine may be needed in severe malaria or when the patient cannot take oral medications. Often, parasites can hide in the liver. A medication called primaquine is given to eradicate the liver form, but this drug cannot be given to people who are deficient in an enzyme called G6PD.
How long does it take to recover from malaria?
Keeping in mind all types of malaria and time taken for the symptoms to show in each case, it would take an average of 2 weeks of active treatment to recover completely. Even then, there are always chances of relapses with certain types of parasitic infection. So, depending on the type of pathogen that infects a person, the treatment may be extended beyond 2 weeks until the chances of relapse are negated.
Prevention of malaria
Click here to read 9 proven effective tricks to stay mosquito-free.
Till date RTS, S/AS01 is the most advanced vaccine against the most deadly form of human malaria, P. falciparum. However, according to the latest findings, carbohydrates may be key to a better malaria vaccine.
2. Mosquito repellent
Mosquito repellent patches and creams are the easiest way to keep mosquitoes at bay. The DEET (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) content in these repellents works by blocking the carbon dioxide receptors of mosquitoes.
3. Mosquito net
This old-school way to protect oneself from mosquitoes is probably one of the most effective ways to prevent mosquito bites. It’s cheap, chemical-free, and works amazingly well for babies.
4. Go natural
Some plants and their oils are understood to keep the bites away. These include citronella, tea tree oil, lavender, basil, lemon eucalyptus, neem (Indian lilac), catnip, and peppermint. Some studies also say that increasing your intake of Vitamin B1 or thiamine will make you unattractive to mosquitoes.
5. Keep your surroundings clean
The best way to prevent mosquito bites is by not letting them breed. Mosquitoes breed in still water; the cleaner and drier your surroundings are the lesser are the chances of mosquitoes breeding there. You can take small steps to keep your home and neighbourhood clean. If you use a water cooler, clean it every couple of weeks, and change the water. Kiddie pools, hot water tubs, et cetera also need to be kept clean. Make sure all the potholes and drains near your place are covered.
To quote public health expert Tom Frieden, “Our progress against malaria is impressive. But vigilance remains a critical ingredient to protect the health of all people.”
We agree with Frieden here. We’ve made great progress; today fewer people die due to malaria than a decade back but still, we have a long way to go. By the way, here is the latest news on malaria vaccination research.
Join us in the journey towards beating malaria. Share this piece with all your loved ones and friends. Spread the awareness, and take the necessary precautions.