Malaria is a serious, life-threatening and sometimes fatal, disease spread by mosquitoes – Anopheles and caused by a parasite (Plasmodium). Five species of Plasmodium (single-celled parasites) can infect humans and cause illness:
- Plasmodium falciparum (or P. Falciparum)
- Plasmodium malariae (or P. Malariae)
- Plasmodium vivax (or P. Vivax)
- Plasmodium ovale (or P. Ovale)
- Plasmodium knowlesi (or P. Knowlesi)
Falciparum Malaria is potentially life-threatening. Patients with severe Falciparum Malaria may develop liver and kidney failure, convulsions, and coma. Although occasionally severe, infections with P. Vivax and P. Ovale generally cause less serious illness, but the parasites can remain dormant in the liver for many months, causing a reappearance of symptoms months or even years later. Plasmodium Ovale is generally not found in India. Plasmodium Malariae is commonly found in tribals, in forests and hilly areas. P. Vivax and Plasmodium Falciparum are found in most parts of India.
Symptoms of Malaria
Malaria has a wide spectrum of symptoms. Along with high fever, shaking chills and sweating, symptoms can include headache, body aches, general weakness, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes complicated or severe malaria affects different body systems which may cause severe anemia, kidney failure, seizures, cardiovascular collapse or low blood sugar.
Modes of Transmission
Generally, it is transmitted through bites from female Anopheles mosquitoes. Besides this, there are other modes of transmission. Because the parasites that cause malaria affect red blood cells, people can also catch it from exposure to infected blood, including: From a mother to an unborn child or through blood transfusion.
Treatment of Malaria
Malaria is treated with prescription drugs to kill the parasite. The types of drugs and the duration of treatment will vary. This depends on:
- Type of malaria parasites
- Severity of symptoms
People who have malaria should drink lots of fluids. Hydration will not treat or cure it, but it will reduce side effects associated with dehydration.
Undeniably, the best way to treat malaria is to never catch it in the first place. Thus, avoiding contact with mosquitoes is crucial. To avoid contact use these simple yet effective ways:
- Using Insecticide Treated Net (ITN) for sleeping can reduce contact between mosquitoes and humans.
- Another powerful way to reduce transmission is Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) with insecticides. Once or twice in year, spraying can be done inside of housing structures.
- Apply insect repellent to exposed skin.
- Clothing that covers most of the exposed skin and shoes that are closed can reduce the risk of bites. Tuck in all clothing. Pants should be tucked into socks to avoid exposure around the ankles. In addition, treating clothes with insecticides can prevent bites even further.
- Make sure that water is not allowed to stagnate in or around your house where mosquitoes breed.
- Keep your surroundings clean.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a simple 4 letter tool to help travelers safely prepare for ventures in any corner of the world.
- Awareness of Risk: Before you travel, you need to be aware if the place you are heading to has a risk of Malaria.
- Bite prevention: Whether you are headed to a high or low-risk area, it is important that you try to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
- Chemoprophylaxis: In some areas where there is a risk of Malaria, it is advised that you use anti-malarial medication to reduce your risk of contracting it should you get bitten.
- Diagnosis: Prompt diagnosis ensures you get the right treatment when you need it and ultimately, improves your chances.
Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death can usually be prevented if you are prepared for it.
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