What is malaria?
Malaria is a life-threatening disease of the blood, spread by the female Anopheles mosquito. The female Anopheles mosquito contracts the Plasmodium parasite, responsible for malaria, when it bites an infected person. The virus spreads in the system of the mosquito and reaches its salivary glands.
Soon after, when the mosquito feeds on a person, it infects him.
There are two types of malaria - the benign and the malignant.
- Benign malaria is characterized by bouts of very high fever and incessant sweating, followed by bouts of feeling extremely cold to the point of shivering.
- Malignant malaria begins with symptoms very similar to benign malaria and then proceeds to breathing complications, liver failure and shock. It can also affect the brain and the central nervous system of the body causing death.
How does malaria occur?
Once the infected mosquito bites a person, the plasmodium parasites enter the person’s bloodstream and travel to the liver where they multiply. From there, they again re-enter the person’s bloodstream and invade the red blood cells. In the red blood cells, they continue to multiply.
48 to 72 hours later, the red blood cells break down and release more parasites into the bloodstream of the person. The person then starts experiencing the symptoms of malaria such as sudden chills, high fever, headache, and shivering in cycles. The process repeats in a cyclical way. Each cycle is worse than the last.
As more and more red blood cells get attacked by the parasites, anemia (lack of red blood cells ) kicks in. Due to the damage to the red blood cells, less oxygen reaches the person’s brain, which affects the functioning of the other organs in the body as well.
What are the symptoms of malaria? How is malaria diagnosed?
The most common symptoms of malaria are:
- cycles of chill/shivering and then sweating / high fever
- muscle pain
- enlarged spleen
- back pain
- dry cough
The diagnosis of malaria can be done through microscopic and non-microscopic methods.
The blood smear (microscopic) test is considered to be a gold standard to detect and diagnose malaria.
A drop of the patient’s blood is spread out on a microscope slide which is stained so that the parasites get highlighted. The number of malarial parasites in the blood fluctuates at any given point of time. Therefore, specimens may be collected over 2 or 3 days after intervals of 8 to 12 hours to detect the parasites.
The non-microscopic tests include Rapid Diagnostic Test, molecular test, antibody test, and susceptibility test.
What are the complications of malaria?
In rare cases, malignant malaria can lead to complications such as:
- impaired function of the brain or spinal cord
- loss of consciousness
What is the treatment for malaria?
The treatment of malaria depends upon the type and severity of infection and the overall health of the affected person.
If you have benign malaria you will be treated at home. The doctor will prescribe anti-malarial medicines, and also advise you about the diet you need to take, along with plenty of rest.
If you have the malignant form of malaria, you will be monitored and treated in the hospital.
If a particular antimalarial medicine fails to work for you, the doctor may try a variety of medicines during the course of the treatment.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
India is a country with one of the highest rates of malaria cases
In India especially malaria has been a problem for centuries. 58% of the malaria cases in South East Asia are from India. 22% of the population in India live in the high malaria transmission zones
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