My first ever Malaria event was the annual Rotarians Against Malaria Conference in 2015. At the conference I spent a significant amount of time googling terms under the table to make sure that I knew what was being discussed. In this hope I have written this to explain what Malaria is and some of the terms used.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is caused by the parasite called Plasmodium and is transmitted through four different types of mosquitoes (vector). It mainly occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas and causes high fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms. Plus, if left untreated, this parasitic disease can cause death.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012, there were 217 million malaria cases and 627, 000 malaria related deaths, mostly in African children. In fact, one child dies every minute from this disease in the African continent.
Where is Malaria Found?
Malaria is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions where there are warm temperatures, high humidity and lots of rainfall. In order for malaria to occur, the climate must be one in which anopheles mosquitoes can survive and multiply. The Plasmodium parasite must also be able to complete their life cycle inside the mosquitoes. In effect, this parasitic disease occurs year-round in endemic levels within sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea and South America.
How is Malaria Spread?
Malaria is typically spread through the female anopheles mosquitoes. This particular mosquito is a “dusk-to-dawn” mosquito, meaning it only comes out at night, which is why people in warm climates are encouraged to use sleeping nets. When the mosquito bites someone already infected with malaria and ingests their blood, the parasite is taken in as well, developing inside them and infecting their saliva. Once the parasite has completed a full life-cycle within the mosquito, the disease will be spread to the subsequent humans bitten by the mosquito.
What are the Symptoms of Malaria?
Symptoms can range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe disease and death. However, if this parasitic disease is caught and treated effectively and promptly, it is usually not severe. Malaria is split into two categories, complicated and uncomplicated. Symptoms of uncomplicated malaria include fever, chills, sweating, headaches, body aches, nausea and vomiting as well as fatigue. In countries where malaria is not common malaria is, in fact, often misdiagnosed as influenza.
How is Malaria Treated?
The WHO recommends all suspected malaria cases be tested using parasite diagnostic testing. The most common treatment for malaria is the artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT); however, resistance to antimalarial drugs is a recurring problem. Furthermore, access to testing and drugs often does not reach the poor communities where this parasitic disease is more prominent.