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What Is Malaria Caused By?

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Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disease that infects your red blood cells. Most commonly, the disease is contracted from an infected mosquito bite, which leads to a parasite entering your bloodstream. Once the bloodstream has been infected, the parasite travels to the liver and begins to mature across several days; infecting the red blood cells and causing them to burst.

As well as an infected mosquito bite, there are other explanations as to what causes malaria to be spread and contracted. An organ transplant can lead to the development of malaria - this is due to the procedure often requiring a blood transfusion at the same time.

The disease is primarily involved with blood and so contaminated needles or syringes can also lead to the spread of the parasites.

5 Types of Malaria Parasites (Plasmodium)

P.Falciparum is the most common type of parasite and has led to the most fatalities around the world. It causes large blood loss and clogging of vessels and spreads rapidly. This parasite can also lead to the development of liver and kidney failure, along with the other symptoms mentioned above.

P.Vivax parasites can be dormant for years after the bite has occurred, delaying the expression of symptoms and increasing the risk of those infected passing it to others. This is most commonly found in Latin America and Asia and, along with falciparum, is considered the most dangerous of the five species, more so due to the high risk of passing it on.

P.Ovale and P.Malariae cause a mild form of malaria and very rarely results in fatalities. They are responsible for a fairly small percentage of human infections and it is rare for individuals to contract these particular parasites compared to the others.

The final parasite is called P.Knowlesi and although it has led to human malaria, it more commonly infects primates (monkeys, apes, lemurs etc).

Symptoms of Malaria

Malaria can cause a multitude of different symptoms that will appear within the first 7-18 days of becoming infected, but it has been known for them to stay dormant for up to a year or more. The symptoms of malaria can include:

  • High temperature/fever: in your body’s attempt to fight the infection, if you contract malaria you will run a fever (temperature over 38°C)
  • Convulsions: also known as seizures. This is due to a change in your brain's electrical activity, causing severe shaking and loss of control; this is due to malaria disturbing your body’s general functioning.
  • Chills: those infected could experience feeling cold for no apparent reason
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/Vomiting: overall stomach discomfort and sensation of feeling sick for some time, or physically being sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle pains
  • Anaemia: this is when your level of healthy red blood cells become too low and therefore the amount of oxygen carried around your blood is limited. Malaria causes this as the parasite causes healthy red blood cells to burst

Due to these symptoms being fairly generic, it is hard to determine them as malaria. However, a clear identifier is if these symptoms appear over 48-hour cycles, with shivering, fever, sweating or fatigue lasting from 6-12 hours.

Malaria Classifications

Asymptomatic malaria can be caused by any of the five parasite species in the blood but does not result in the expression of any symptoms. This certain type of malaria can be dangerous, primarily to others as it generally goes undiagnosed for long periods and can lead to the disease becoming widespread by those originally infected.

Uncomplicated malaria will see people experiencing symptoms after 7-10 days of becoming bitten by a mosquito. This classification will lead to generic symptoms, such as fever, sweating, nausea and headaches. These nonspecific symptoms can lead to the disease going undiagnosed for some time and can lead to spreading.

Severe malaria is primarily associated with the P.Falciparum parasite, but not exclusively. This can lead to more serious symptoms, varying from anaemia to end-organ damage, as well as pulmonary complications and a coma.

Who is Most at Risk of Malaria?

Around half the world's population is at some risk of becoming infected with malaria, but some geographical locations are at a higher risk of contracting malaria.

There are also some groups of people who could face more severe consequences if they were to become infected:

Pregnant women face a higher risk if they are to become diagnosed with malaria. Complications can vary from stillbirth, anaemia (both mother and baby), neonatal death and low birth weight.

Infants and children (under the age of five or six) are the most vulnerable group to contract and encounter rapid progression of the disease. Under 5’s account for 67% of all malaria deaths around the world.

Malaria has been most commonly found in Africa, Asia and America, but due to its ability to lie dormant, the spread of infection can lead to malaria being contracted anywhere in the world. However, Central Africa was responsible for 93% of all cases in 2018.

How To Prevent Yourself From Malaria

When travelling to countries in which malaria is a high risk, it is important to take precautions to protect your health. There are different methods available to both treat and prevent the contraction of malaria, from tablets to sprays and injections.

Express Pharmacy has a reliable selection of anti-malaria tablets, however, these anti-malaria medications are not 100% effective at protecting you against the disease and so should be used hand in hand with anti bite prevention.

Doxycycline is an anti-malaria tablet that should be taken once a day, 2-days before visiting a high-risk area, and should be taken at this rate for up to 4 weeks after leaving.

Malarone should be taken the same as Doxycycline, once a day and for 2-days before. However, it is only required to be administered 1 week after returning from the location.

Lariam should be taken once, weekly, with the first tablet being taken preferably 2-3 weeks before travelling and 4 weeks after.