Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite. The parasite can be transferred by a malaria mosquito from a patient with malaria onto a healthy person. Malaria causes flu-like symptoms. If it is not treated, malaria can be fatal. Malaria is most common in tropical and subtropical areas, in places where it is hot and humid.
The cause of malaria is a parasite of the genus Plasmodium. The parasite is transferred by mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. These mosquitoes get infected by people with malaria. If they sting another person, they infect this person as well. There are four different parasites that cause malaria. Once the parasite has reached the body, it’s going to multiply. This multiplication is done first in the liver and then in the red blood cells. The multiplication of the parasite in the body causes flu-like symptoms.
Apart from infection by mosquitoes, people can also be infected by:
- Transfusions of infected blood.
- Sharing contaminated needles.
- Wounds from injection needles.
- Organ transplant.
- Mother to child (very rare).
The symptoms of malaria are dependent on the type of malaria which a person has and the personal situation. Common signs and symptoms of malaria are:
- Muscle aches.
- Swelling of the liver and spleen.
The symptoms of malaria generally occur ten to fourteen days after infection.
The diagnosis of malaria is made on the basis of the symptoms and a physical examination. The diagnosis is confirmed by identifying the parasite by means of microscopic examination of blood smears.
There are various medications that can be used in case of malaria:
- Drugs that reduce the risk of malaria.
- Drugs that can cure malaria.
- Drugs that ensure that a patient is not contagious.
If malaria is determined, medications can be used to kill the malaria parasite. For example, chloroquine, quinine and mefloquine. In many areas, however, the parasite has become resistant to chloroquine, making malaria not responding to this drug.
Reducing fever is important in the treatment of malaria. Think of administering paracetamol and measures as sponging with lukewarm water. When the fever is reduced, vomiting also diminishes. If the patient is treated, it may be necessary that he or she uses additional drugs to prevent infecting people in his or her environment.
At this moment, unfortunately no vaccinations are possible for malaria. Though these are being developed for the population in the third world, but not for travellers.
When treated quickly with the right medicines, the prognosis of malaria is very good. The high mortality worldwide due to this disease, especially in young children in Africa, is generally caused by the lack of (access to) proper medical care.
It’s important to take measures if a person is planning to travel to a country where malaria prevails. There are several forms of malaria prevention:
- Preventively taking antimalarials. These so-called malaria pills can prevent malaria.
- Protection against mosquito bites by wearing covering clothing, lubricating oneself with mosquito repellent and sleeping under an impregnated mosquito net.
- Wearing long pants and long-sleeved clothing in the evening, preferably in light colors.
- Keeping the house or the room free of mosquitoes; using air conditioning or fan.
- Using mosquito coils when staying outside, for example on a terrace.