Malaria: FAQs

 What is malaria?

Malaria is a serious, sometimes fatal, disease caused by a parasite. Thereare four kinds of malaria that can infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum , P.vivax , P. ovale , and P. malariae.

Where does malaria occur?

Malaria occurs in over 100 countries and territories. More than 40% of thepeople in the world are at risk. Large areas of Central and South America,Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Africa, the Indian subcontinent,Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania are considered malaria-risk areas(an area of the world that has malaria).

How common is malaria?

The World Health Organization estimates that yearly 300-500 million cases ofmalaria occur and more than 1 million people die of malaria. About 1,200 casesof malaria are diagnosed in the United States each year. Most cases in theUnited States are in immigrants and travelers returning from malaria-risk areas,mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

How do you get malaria?

Humans get malaria from the bite of a malaria-infected mosquito. When a mosquito bites an infected person, it ingests microscopic malaria parasites found in the personís blood. The malaria parasite must grow in the mosquito for a week or more before infection can be passed to another person. If, after a week, the mosquito then bites another person, the parasites go from the mosquitoís mouth into the personís blood. The parasites then travel to the personís liver, enter the liverís cells, grow and multiply. During this time when the parasites are in the liver, the person has not yet felt sick. The parasites leave the liver and enter red blood cells; this may take as little as8 days or as many as several months. Once inside the red blood cells, the parasites grow and multiply. The red blood cells burst, freeing the parasites to attack other red blood cells. Toxins from the parasite are also released into the blood, making the person feel sick. If a mosquito bites this person while the parasites are in his or her blood, it will ingest the tiny parasites. After a week or more, the mosquito can infect another person.

Each year in the United States, a few cases of malaria result from blood transfusions, are passed from mother to fetus during pregnancy, or are transmitted by locally infected mosquitoes.

What are the signs and symptoms of malaria?

Symptoms of malaria include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Malaria may cause anemia and jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin and eyes) because of the loss of red blood cells. Infection with one typeof malaria, P. falciparum, if not promptly treated, may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death.

How soon will a person feel sick after being bitten by an infected mosquito?

For most people, symptoms begin 10 days to 4 weeks after infection, although a person may feel ill as early as 8 days or up to 1 year later. Two kinds ofmalaria, P. vivax and P. ovale, can relapse; some parasites can rest in the liver for several months up to 4 years after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito . When these parasites come out of hibernation and begin invading red blood cells, the person will become sick.

How is malaria diagnosed?

Malaria is diagnosed by looking for the parasites in a drop of blood. Blood will be put onto a microscope slide and stained so that the parasites will be visible under a microscope.

Any traveler who becomes ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling and up to 1 year after returning home should immediately seek professional medical care. You should tell your health care provider that you have been traveling in a malaria-risk area.

Who is at risk for malaria?

Persons living in, and travelers to, any area of the world where malaria is transmitted may become infected.

What is the treatment for malaria?

Malaria can be cured with prescription drugs. The type of drugs and length of treatment depend on which kind of malaria is diagnosed, where the patient was infected, the age of the patient, and how severely ill the patient was at start of treatment.

Conventional Medicine

If you are infected with P. vivax, P. ovale or P. malariae, you will receivechloroquine orally for three days. To help avoid later recurrences caused bydormant P. vivax or P. ovale parasites, you will also be given oral doses of primaquine for 14 more days. Because primaquine can destroy red blood cells andthus threaten the health of a fetus, it is not given to pregnant women; if youare pregnant, you will be kept on chloroquine.

 

If you became infected with P. falciparum in an area of the world where it has not been shown resistant to chloroquine, you will be treated with that drug.Otherwise, you will be given oral doses of either quinine and tetracycline, or quinine and a combination product of pyrimethamine and sulfadoxine for several days. If you are vomiting or have serious medical complications, you may be given intravenous quinidine until you are well enough to take the other drug

How can malaria and other travel-related illnesses be prevented?

This fact sheet is for information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the disease described above or think that you might have malaria, consult a doctor.

 


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