Mosquitoes aren’t just some buzzing nuisance, they are the bearers of serious, life-threatening diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya. With more than 215 million malaria cases worldwide, half of the world is considered at risk of malaria.
So, are there any types of this fatal disease? If there are, what are their symptoms? Can those be prevented? Read on to know all this, and more.
How is Malaria Caused and What are the Different Malaria Types?
Malaria is caused when a female Anopheles mosquito bites. The female anopheles mosquito carries Plasmodium parasites (or the malaria parasites) that cause malaria symptoms and are responsible for the disease.
There are five malaria types or the five main species of Plasmodium parasites affecting humans:
- Plasmodium falciparum: The most common malaria parasite, it is found in tropical and subtropical areas. It is the major contributor to malaria-related deaths.
- Plasmodium vivax: It is commonly found in Asia and Latin America. This type lies in a dormant stage and can cause relapses months or even years after the mosquito bite.
- Plasmodium ovale: It is mostly found in Africa and the Pacific islands.
- Plasmodium malariae: It is found worldwide. This malaria parasite can cause chronic infection.
- Plasmodium knowlesi: This parasite is found throughout the Southeast Asia. It can rapidly grow from an uncomplicated case to a severe malaria infection.
The first two Plasmodium parasite species are considered the most dangerous of all.
How does Malaria Spread?
Usually, when a mosquito bites someone who already has malaria, it sucks up that person’s blood. The blood contains the malarial parasites. The same female mosquito bites another person and it injects those malaria parasites into the next person. This way the disease spreads.
Once inside the body, malaria parasites travel to the liver and multiply there. They enter the red blood cells (the blood cells carrying oxygen), infect the cells, and multiply. It releases more parasites in blood causing the infection and eventually making the body sick.
Malaria is not a contagious disease, which means that it doesn’t spread from person-to-person. However, it may (rarely) pass from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. It may also occur from an infected person to another in case they share drug needles.
What are the Symptoms of Malaria?
Malaria is diagnosed through lab tests and the patient’s symptoms that may include:
- High Fever
- Chills and Sweating
- Nausea and Headache
- Diarrhea, Fatigue
- Muscle Pains
Severe malaria symptoms are more prominent and include:
- Severe Anemia
- Troubled Breathing
- Kidney Failure
In severe, rare cases, malaria can cause coma.
The symptoms usually occur approximately 10 to 15 days after the mosquito bite. However, it may become a little difficult to decipher whether the symptoms are pertaining to malaria because:
- The indications are quite similar to the symptoms of cold and flu.
- If the infection is Plasmodium vivax, not necessarily do the malaria symptoms show up within the mentioned span of 10-15 days.
- Sometimes people who live in malaria endemic areas, may become partially immune to it, rendering the infection asymptomatic.
How is Malaria Treated?
Early diagnosis and treatment are effective in preventing malaria and reducing its severity. It can be treated by a primary care doctor as well as an infectious-disease specialist. The treatment, however, depends upon factors such as:
- How severe the symptoms are,
- Which specific species of parasite is identified,
- The area where the infected person lives or is travelling to, in order to determine whether the area is malaria endemic, and
- Access to health care provider.
Appropriate medical help is administered on the basis of the symptoms in the absence of parasitological diagnosis. Doctors give the malaria medication in pill form or as an intravenous infusion depending on the above-mentioned factors.
Furthermore, there are two Plasmodium parasite species, Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium ovale, that hibernate in the liver and may cause relapses weeks or months after the treatment.
Can Malaria be Prevented?
Presently there is no commercial vaccine for malaria. Therefore, prevention of mosquito bites is of paramount importance. These preventive measures should include the following:
- Use insecticide-treated mosquito nets.
- Cover the exposed skin to reduce the risk of bites. Avoid exposure around the ankles.
- Spray mosquito repellent indoors and apply insect repellent to exposed skin.
The World Health Organization is actively working towards controlling and eliminating malaria through various programs, guidelines and aggressive approach against malaria. It is important for each and every one to understand that awareness is power. Know your surroundings and fight malaria!
Types of Malaria