Malaria: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Malaria

Malaria is a widely prevalent and common disease which is preventable but still claims many lives everywhere. It is caused due to a parasite called plasmodium which is present in the saliva of an infected female mosquito of the anopheles genus.

Name: Malaria

Cause: Plasmodium strains, insect/mosquito bites

Symptoms: Chills, fever , sweating, heachache

Treatment: Antimalarial medication

Prevention: Avoiding mosquito bites, avoiding breeding mosquitoes

Diagnosis: Medical consultation, blood-test

The disease attacks the liver and destroys red blood cells. Initially the symptoms of Malaria are very similar to those of flu, which is why it is easy to confuse one with the other initially. The symptoms of flu do not last for more than a couple of days, and if the symptoms persist  it is crucial to get tested for Malaria as ignoring the disease proves to be fatal.

Types of Malaria:

The parasite called Plasmodium is the cause for Malaria, and there are several strains of it. There are five strains of the parasite that affect human immunity, and the consequent disease varies from patient to patient, depending on various factors such as the immunity of the host, the strength and concentration of the parasite, etc.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, there are the following two types of Malaria.

  1. Uncomplicated Malaria
  2. Severe Malaria

Uncomplicated Malaria :

●   In the case of uncomplicated Malaria, the primary symptoms of the disease are present. However, the serious symptoms which affect the various vital organs of the body. If left untreated, this can develop into severe malaria.

●   The symptoms in the case of uncomplicated malaria are experienced anywhere between six to ten hours, and on alternate days at times. Since the symptoms, then, are like that of a flu, it is easy to misdiagnose the disease. Particular care should be taken to avoid that.

●   In this case, patients should look out for feeling cold, experiencing chills, seizures, tiredness, vomiting, sweats, etc. In regions where malaria is common, people are in the habit of identifying it easily, but elsewhere, precaution is a must.

Severe Malaria:

●   Severe Malaria may or may not be preceded by Uncomplicated Malaria, as it may also be the immediate consequence of an invasion by strains of Plasmodium. The medical screening and tests, in the case of Severe Malaria, indicate dysfunction of several vital organs of the body.

●   Alongside the flu-like symptoms that are seen in the case of uncomplicated malaria, severe malaria also causes impaired consciousness, convulsions, anemia, unexplained bleeding, and more.

●   Such a case requires immediate medical attention otherwise it can prove fatal. The treatment of such a malaria is also usually much longer than that of an uncomplicated malaria, and the patient takes time to regain strength.

Cerebral Malaria:

Cerebral malaria is a specific kind of malaria that is very severe and exhibits neurological symptoms. These may be various kinds of coma (a state of unwilling mental inactivity which may be induced due to various reasons). Patients may also experience coma after seizures and these may last for as long as 30 minutes or even longer.

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Malaria Symptoms:

The following malaria symptoms have been reported by those who have experienced Malaria.

●   Fever: Malaria is characterised by high fever that keeps recurring.

●   Chills: Patients often experience chills and shivers in malaria.

●   Sweating: those with malaria often sweat profusely due to the fever and chills that keep alternating.

●   Headache: with every fever comes a headache, as it does in the case of malaria.

●   Nausea and vomiting: patients of malaria find it difficult to eat anything due to constant nausea. Even if they eat, they usually end up vomiting.

●   Abdominal pain: since malaria causes dysfunction of several vital organs in the body, it is only normal that patients experience pain in the abdomen.

●   Diarrhea: the bodily temperature is disturbed and so is the eating pattern, hence patients of malaria commonly experience diarrhea.

●   Anemia: as the plasmodium parasite attacks the red blood cells in the body, anemia is common in patients of malaria.

●   Muscle pains: due to the weakness, fever, disturbed functioning of vital organs, it is not uncommon for patients to experience muscle pain.

●   Convulsions: patients may experience convulsions due to the fluctuating body temperature, and these may be worsen substantially be the body’s weakened immunity and general exhaustion.

●   Bloody stools: the fever and chill phenomenon experienced by the body during malaria anyway makes the digestive system weak, and sometimes patients may see bloody stools as a result.

These are only some of the symptoms that patients may experience due to malaria. The weakness and other bodily symptoms of malaria may exhibit other physiological and anatomical responses in individuals.

Some other Malaria symptoms patients should look out for are:

●   Circulatory shock

●   Low blood pressure

●   Breathing problems

●   Presence of hemoglobin in the urine

●   Kidney failure

●   Pulmonary oedema

●   Decrease in blood glucose levels

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Diagnosis of Malaria:

Often times, the symptoms and physical examination make it clear if the patient has malaria or not. Symptoms like an enlarged spleen, fever and chills, convulsions, usually make it obvious if a patient has malaria. However, a blood-test is used to make sure the diagnosis is accurate.

In a blood test, the following indicates malaria:

●   A low count of platelets

●   Levels of bilirubin being higher than normal

●   A normal level of white blood cells

Apart from this, a blood test is also useful in identifying which strand of Plasmodium is infecting the patient as the treatment strategies vary as per the strains of plasmodium in question.

●   Sometimes, antigen based Rapid Diagnostic Tests are also used for diagnosis purposes. These have also been seen to have a higher accuracy level than microscopic blood tests which have drawbacks of their own.

●   Polymerase chain reaction-based tests are not as commonly used, but they can be very useful in identifying the infection even before the parasite plasmodium becomes too strong and increases in strength in the blood samples.

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What Causes Malaria?

●   The cause of malaria is always plasmodium, a parasite that multiplies quickly and asexually in the body of the host and causes several symptoms as it feeds on the definitive host.

●   The female mosquito of the Anopheles genus acts as the carrier of the disease, however, not all female mosquitoes of the genus are infected with the disease. Male mosquitoes do not act as carrier of the disease simply because they do not bite vertebrates and feed on plant nectar. Females of the anopheles genus are responsible for the spreading of the disease.

●   When a female mosquito of the anopheles genus bites a vertebrate, such as a human being, the sporozoites of Plasmodium are released into the bloodstream of this creature. Upon entering the bloodstream, the sporozoites then move to the liver where they infect the liver cells. Upon doing this, they move back into the bloodstream where they attack red blood cells. In both places, they continue to multiply asexually.

●   This is how the parasite multiplies in the host’s body and causes the various symptoms that characterize Malaria.

●   It is also believed by researchers that global warming is going to be a contributing factor in the future of the disease, by affecting the parasite in question as well as the mosquito that acts as a carrier. However, they are still uncertain as to what kind of results should be expected out of the same.

●   The cause of malaria is, then, for the most part is mosquitos which act as carriers of the disease. Another cause of malaria could be blood transfusion, as infected blood from one host can obviously cause the parasite to infect another previously healthy person.

Prevention From Malaria:

The prevention of Malaria involves

(a)   Preventing mosquito breeding

(b)   Staying safe from mosquito bites.

A. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, and if there are areas where water can collect and stand undisturbed, these are sure to serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

The various ways one can actively prevent breeding of mosquitoes by preventing water to collect and stagnate in the areas around them are given below:

●   Disposing waste correctly instead of storing it in open areas

●   Keeping stored items covered

●   Not letting water collect in buckets, tires, etc.

●   Keeping drainage ditches covered

●   Refreshing bird baths everyday

●   Disposing hollows of trees or filling them up

●   Filling in low areas and keeping land even

●   Ensure proper disposal of plastics and polythenes

●   Avoiding letting water stagnate anywhere

B. While it is important to prevent breeding grounds from flourishing, sometimes there is not much that can be done for this purpose, especially in the rainy season. This is why it is crucial to safeguard oneself against mosquito bites. The following are some ways in which one can prevent themselves from being infected by mosquito bites:

●   Using mosquito-repellent creams or sprays

●   Staying inside well-screened areas

●   Sleeping in mosquito-nets

●   Spraying insecticides around the house

●   Wear long sleeves

●   Avoid shorts and skirts

●   Wear socks as the anopheles mosquito usually flies low

●   Get an antimalarial prescription if the disease is spreading quickly in nearby areas

Treatment of Malaria:

For the treatment of malaria, there are several Anti-malarial medicines which are used. These medicines are:

●   Amodiaquine

●   Lumefantrine

●   Mefloquine

●   Sulfadoxine

●   Pyrimethamine

Another alternative is Artemisinin-Combination Therapy (ACT) which may be used in combination with anti-malarial medications.

Treatment of malaria in pregnant women is not only important but also different from regular anti-malarial treatment. WHO recommends using quinine and clindamycin for the treatment of pregnant women who are still in the first trimester. Women in the later trimesters are recommended using ACT.

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Risk Factors Related to Malaria:

Certain physical and physiological conditions can be responsible for causing a disease in a patient. The following risk factors are responsible for causing malaria in patients:

●   Rainy season and a warm climate where mosquitoes can breed

●   Staying in the vicinity of open dumpsters where water can collect

●   Travelling through forests and rural settings

●   Improper hygiene practices in community spaces

●   Weak immunity

●   Immunity weakened due to another disease

●   Spending time in pastures

●   Staying in the vicinity of a lake

There can be other risk factors as well which predispose an individual, all of which are related to situations which enable breeding of mosquitoes; and make a person prone to attack by insects including mosquitoes.

Complications Due to Malaria:

There are certain complications that may arise due to a disease, as it can predispose a person to several other issues. There are certain life threatening complications that may arise due to malaria, and these are listed below.

●   If one’s malaria is too intense, it can turn into cerebral malaria. This can then cause confusion, tiredness, seizures, and eventually a state of coma leading to death.

●   Malaria can be the cause for pulmonary edema, which is a condition in which fluids fill up the lungs.

●   In certain cases Malaria can be the cause for a kidney failure.

●   In certain cases Malaria can also be the cause for abnormal functioning of the liver.

●   Malaria can cause aplastic anemia in some patients as well.

●   Malaria can sometimes also cause the number of white blood cells in the blood to go down.

●   Patients previously diagnosed with diabetes may also experience hypoglycemia or low blood sugar level.

●   Malaria may cause a lower level of sodium in the blood, and may also cause the pH to lower, this is called lactic acidosis. Other changes in blood chemistry, however uncommon, may also be observed.

●   Malaria can cause a deadly issue which is called blackwater fever. This is characterised by a massive destruction of red blood cells in the blood stream. This in turn causes dark-coloured urine, and this is where it gets its name from.

Myths Related To Malaria:

There are several myths which often corrupt the way a disease is properly dealt with and treated. The following myths about malaria often cause confusion and misinformation, which is why it is important to know the facts behind them.

Myth #1: Anopheles Mosquitoes which cause Malaria only bite at night.

Fact: the mosquito responsible for causing Malaria is the infected female Anopheles mosquito. This specific mosquito only feeds during dusk and dawn, but if it does not find a proper feed during this time, it will also continue to look for food in hours that follow. This means that hungry mosquitoes of the genus will feed even during at night and daylight. Hence, while it is more likely to be bit by the mosquito during the late evening or early morning, it is not limited to this. One must stay safe throughout the day and use preventive measures.

Myth #2: One is safe from the Malaria causing mosquitoes in air conditioned spaces.

Fact: while it is true that mosquitoes usually do not bite when one is an air conditioned space, this is only conditional. Mosquitoes, and other insects, get slower and lazier as it gets cold and find it difficult to move. Mosquitoes may hide around in nooks and crannies of the house which are relatively warmer, and then come out when the air conditioner is turned on. They might be slower in such a setting but they are still as dangerous and capable of causing disease.

Myth #3: being infected once makes one immune to malaria.

Fact: Since symptoms of malaria are often seen to recur in patients who have recovered, it should be obvious that this myth is absolutely false. While being infected with any pathogen means that a body builds immunity towards it, there are several external factors which may cause the immunity of a person to go down. Moreover, staying in an area which is prone to malaria epidemics can cause anybody’s immunity to go down drastically, even if they were earlier well immune to the disease.

Myth #4: Malaria is a disease that only happens to humans. If all humans do not have it and we get rid of it, we will not need to prevent malaria epidemics ever again.

Fact: Malaria is not reserved to human beings, several monkeys and apes can also get the disease. This basically means it is not possible to get rid of the disease by ridding all human beings of it, or even all monkeys and apes of it. The only way malaria as a disease can be extinct is if the prime agent of the disease, which is the genus Plasmodium, is extinct.

Myth #5: There is a need to immunize everyone with anti-malarial drugs since control strategies for malaria aren’t sufficient.

Fact: This is false, as properly following the control strategies for malaria have always been seen to be effective. By ensuring that mosquitoes do not breed in the surroundings, and ensuring that safety measures are taken such as wearing full sleeves and using mosquito repellants, there is very little chance of someone getting infected with malaria.

Myth #6: Malaria is only a problem in the developing countries.

Fact: Malaria is a disease prevalent in all parts of the world where the climate is supportive for the life of mosquitoes. The reason malaria epidemics are more common in developing countries if that these countries do not have the proper infrastructure to deal with epidemics very often, and what makes it worse is that most of these also have climates which are warm and tropical, nd cleanliness and maintaining hygiene in the environment is also relatively difficult.

Myth #7: Garlic keeps mosquitoes at bay.

Fact: It is commonly believed that smelly foods keep mosquitoes away but there is no scientific or practical evidence to back this up. The only advice that is useful is to stay indoors and stay safe from mosquito bites with the help of repellant.

Myth #8: Mosquitoes die after feeding, so they cannot infect more than one person.

Fact: the lifespan of a mosquito is a few days and mosquitoes continue to feed on until their lifespan is over. Hence, one mosquito can certainly infect more than one person.

Myth #9: Mosquito repellants do more harm than good since they are full of chemicals.

Fact: Mosquito repellent creams are tested in laboratories before being launched into markets. They are safe for use and often use natural ingredients to prevent mosquitoes from biting. By preventing diseases like malaria, dengue, chikungunya, etc. they are certainly more beneficial than harmful.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs):

1). Is Malaria fatal?

Ans: When properly treated with the right means, there is very little chance of a person losing their life to malaria. It is only when the disease is allowed to fester more and more without treatment that it can take more dangerous forms such as cerebral malaria and be fatal.

2) All malaria cannot be treated the same way, is that true?

Ans: treatment of malaria also depends on what strain of the parasite Plasmodium are causing the disease, alongside the type and severity of the disease, and the condition of the patient.

3) would extinction of mosquitoes solve the problem of malaria epidemics?

Ans: extinction of mosquitoes would contribute significantly to many changes in ecosystems and environs across the globe, and these will not be limited to how malaria spreads but will also have an impact on several other things about the planet, which will certainly not be pleasant.

4) How can I make my house free of malaria?

Ans: T o ensure that malaria does not plague one’s family, it is important to keep the house safe. Windows and screens should be kept shut to prevent mosquitoes and other insects from entering the house. One should also make sure there are no places which allow water to stagnate, and thereby serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Using mosquito repellants can also help combat the problem of malaria.

5) Does cannabis prevent Malaria?

Ans: There are inadequate studies to observe the relation between the two, hence one should take classic precautions and stay safe.

6) Are children more susceptible to malaria than adults?

Ans: Children who spend more time outdoors in open spaces are likely to be attacked by mosquitoes more than adults who stay indoors for the most part. Hence, children are more likely to be infected by malaria in such a situation.

7) Can you get AIDS from malaria spreading mosquitoes?

Ans: No. Mosquitoes cannot act as a carrier of HIV virus, and therefore malaria spreading mosquitoes cannot cause AIDS, Hepatitis, or the like.

8) Does penicillin do anything to cure or prevent malaria?

Ans: Penicillin is effective in controlling fever, and hence can be used during the initial stages of malaria to deal with the fever that occur as a symptom. However, penicillin is ineffective in the treatment of the disease as it is not equipped to treat the Plasmodium parasite.

9) Are mosquito nets any good in preventing malaria?

Ans: Yes, mosquito nets can be used as a great cover against mosquitoes in general, including the female Anopheles mosquito which is the carrier of Malaria causing parasite Plasmodium.

10) If a mosquito is squashed while it is biting a person, is there still a chance of infection?

Ans: Yes, there is a chance of infection even if a mosquito is squashed while it is biting. The sting of the mosquito releases the spermatozoids which are responsible for causing the disease in human beings by travelling from the bloodstream to the liver.

11) Does wearing perfume attract mosquitoes that cause malaria?

Ans: Wearing any fragrance that is sweet and floral can attract many insects, including mosquitoes. Wearing perfumes like that can therefore predispose one to malaria.

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Last updated on : 25-01-2019

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