Malaria is a disease passed through the blood. It is typically passed to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito but can also be passed from mother to unborn child or during a blood transfusion from an infected donor.
Malaria is caused by a specific type of parasite.
Most often, a mosquito picks up the parasite when it bites someone with malaria. The mosquito can pass the parasite to a new person when it bites them. The parasite then travels to and multiplies in the liver.
After several days, the new parasites leave the liver and pass into the bloodstream. The parasite infect the red blood cells and within 48 hours the infected red blood cells burst. The parasites then go on to infect more red blood cells.
Living in or traveling to hot, humid climates where Anopheles mosquitoes are common is the most common risk factor for malaria. Africa, Asia, and Latin America all have areas where malaria is common. The majority of fatal cases are found in tourists visiting game parks and other rural areas in east Africa.
Your chance of getting malaria increases dramatically if basic prevention step listed below are not followed.
There are no symptoms in the early stage of infection.
Symptoms usually begin within 10 days to four weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms may include:
Seek medical care right away for any illness with high fever. Without treatment, the cycle of red blood cell destruction and fever will continue. This can lead to death.
Some types of malaria may not produce symptoms for a year or more. The severity of symptoms and death rate are often associated with the specific type of malaria.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and travel history. A physical exam will be done. Malaria will be diagnosed with blood tests. The blood test will also help identify the specific type of parasite causing your infection.
Prescription drugs are used to treat malaria by killing the parasites. The choice of an antimalarial agent depends on:
To reduce your chance of getting malaria when in a high risk area:
Centers for Disease Control
World Health Organization
Public Health Agency of Canada
Malaria: topic home. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/Malaria/ . Updated August 9, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2013.
Malaria and Travelers. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/index.html . Accessed May 20, 2013.
Malaria. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated May 3, 2013. Accessed May 20, 2013.
8/31/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php : Enayati A, Hemingway J, Garner P. Electronic mosquito repellents for preventing mosquito bites and malaria infection. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(2):CD005434.
Last reviewed May 2013 by Michael K. Mansour, MD, PhD