Malaria: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

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Malaria is a tropical parasitic infection that can be fatal if not treated in time. It can be contracted in many countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, but also, to a lesser extent, in Mexico, Central America, South America, the Middle East, Turkey, Pakistan, India and China.

Causes of malaria

The parasite that causes malaria is transmitted to humans by the Anopheles mosquito. There are 4 types of malaria infections, each transmitted by a different parasite:

  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium malariae
  • Oval plasmodium
  • Plasmodium falciparum

Malaria risk factors

  • Over 80% of cases of malaria recorded each year occur in subtropical Africa.
  • 13% of cases are in Southeast Asia.
  • 20% of children who die every day in the world die of malaria

The people most at risk of contracting malaria are those who:

  • Travel to affected regions (sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, among others)
  • Live in affected areas
  • Are from affected areas, but live abroad and return for short stays (vacations) because their immunity wanes

Among the people at risk, some are more at risk of succumbing to malaria including:

  • Pregnant women and young children (in areas at risk)
  • People with HIV (in areas at risk)

Contagion

Malaria is not spread from human to human. Infections happen via mosquitoes which, by biting already infected people, transmit the parasite to other people.

The incubation time after first contact with the parasite is usually 7 to 16 days. It can sometimes take several months between infection and the first symptoms of malaria.

The main symptoms of malaria

Malaria is most often manifested by a “primary infection” which occurs after the incubation period. Symptoms of this infection resemble seizures and include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • High fever, accompanied by chills, sweating, delirium
  • Generalized weakness
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • A weak appetite
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, diarrhea and vomiting (more rarely)
  • Muscle pain

Thereafter, the condition seems to improve overall, but the malaria attacks occur at more or less regular intervals for weeks or even months after the primary infection, even after leaving the area at risk.

Diagnostic

In case of fever during a trip to a malaria area, go to a professional as soon as possible.

After staying in a high-risk area, it is absolutely necessary to see a doctor as soon as you experience symptoms resembling those of malaria. Simple and quick tests can identify malaria within hours.

Possible risks of complications

In addition to the symptoms above, very serious disorders which are often fatal if not treated in time can arise amid a malaria infection: neurological disorders (convulsions, coma , signs of meningitis), severe anemia, hypoglycemia, coagulation disorders, hemorrhages, liver and kidney damage.

In addition, in some (rare) cases there is no primary infection and symptoms are pernicious the first time around.

Treatment of malaria

A rapid treatment of malaria allows a total cure. Doctors will recommend treatment depending on where you got the disease from, your medical history, and the type of parasite involved. The treatment lasts between 3 and 7 days and it should not be stopped, even if the symptoms disappear.

Prevention of malaria

There is currently no vaccine that protects against malaria. If you are planning to travel to an area at risk, it is recommended that you take preventative medicines before and during the trip (the same as those given once the infection is diagnosed.) These medicines are not 100% safe, but greatly reduce the risk of catching the disease from a mosquito bite.

On site, certain measures can further reduce the risk of malaria:

  • You must sleep under insecticide-treated mosquito nets
  • Wear long, light-colored clothing, ideally at all times, or at least after sunset
  • Use insect repellant on areas of skin not hidden by clothing
  • Avoid going out between sunset and sunrise, when mosquitoes are present.
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