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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

10 Facts About Malaria

Malaria is a tropical disease that poses a risk for residents of and travelers to parts of Africa, Asia, Central America and South America. There is no vaccine and the symptoms are severe, but with preventative medicine, transmission is unlikely.

Below are some facts about malaria.

1. What Is Malaria?

It’s a blood-borne disease spread by the bite of an infected female mosquito. Malaria can cause serious complications and is potentially fatal.

2. Where Does It Come From?

A particular mosquito called the Anopheles mosquito can harbor a parasite called Plasmodium. This is the most deadly parasite out of the five that cause malaria.

Image source: https://www.euroclinix.net/en/travel-health/malaria/transmission

When an Anopheles mosquito bites and infects a person with parasites it causes malaria.

3. How Does It Make A Person Ill?

When the parasite enters the human blood stream via an infected mosquito it travels to the liver where it infects red blood cells. This leads to red blood cells bursting.

If an uninfected Anopheles mosquito bites a person with malaria, it picks up the parasite in its salivary glands and so the life-cycle continues.

4. The Anopheles Mosquito

There are over 400 species of Anopheles mosquito and 30 of these are of malarial importance.

They bite at dawn and dusk, but the veracity of the infection is dependent on the human, the environment and the parasite itself. Anopheles mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, even managing to breed in the rain-filled hoof print of horses, which means there are a great deal of breeding habitats available to them.

Although the Anopheles mosquito is the main risk of malaria transmission a person can also become infected through a blood transfusion or organ transplant. Sharing infected needles is another route as is mother to baby during birth - known as congenital malaria.

5. Symptoms

Malaria symptoms can be mild to begin with and can be mistaken for other illnesses. This is dangerous as malaria such as the P. Faciparum strain can lead to serious complications if not treated within 24 hours.

Some people develop partial immunity to malaria in areas that are particularly prone to the parasite. Symptoms of the disease can vary for person to person.

Well-known symptoms are:

•    High temperature or fever
•    Chills and sweating
•    Headaches
•    Vomiting
•    Diarrhea
•    Muscle pains
•    Children can develop anemia and breathing difficulties

6. Incubation Period

Because the parasite needs time to develop a person won’t feel ill with malaria symptoms right away. Usually symptoms appear a week after infection but it can take up to 18 days and sometime up to a year. It depends on the parasite’s life cycle.

7. The Global Effect

Parasites need time to grow and complete their life cycle, so severe malaria is more frequent in areas where the mosquito lives longer. Some mosquitoes also prefer to bite humans. This converges in Africa where 90% of malaria cases occur. Malaria is one of the main reasons for poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Image source: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/geog030/node/148

Conditions for optimum mosquito breeding are when there’s heat and dampness. When humidity is high epidemics can occur. Rainy seasons or when a large group of people with no immunity move to an infected area, such as refugees, there may be an upsurge in cases.

There is some concern that global warming may mean currently uninfected areas start to see tropical diseases such as malaria. Researchers in the UK for example believe a two-degree rise in temperature could lead to pathogens such as malaria, becoming a risk in the UK.

8. Who Is At Risk?

Sub-Saharan Africa had 88% of malaria cases and 90% of malarial deaths in 2015. It kills approximately 438,000 people every year. In 2015, 300,000 children in Africa died of malaria under the age of 5.

Asia, Latin America and some parts of the Middle East have high malaria risks but 97 countries have malaria transmission. It’s thought 3.2 billion people are at risk of contracting malaria.

Everyone exposed to the virus is at risk, but some are in especial danger. Pregnant women and their unborn children are at risk of dying from complications or experiencing spontaneous miscarriage. The immune-compromised, such as HIV or chemotherapy patients, infants and children under 5, the elderly, and those with no immunity, such as travelers, are particularly at risk.

All travelers to North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands should be aware of the dangers of malaria.

9. Prevention

There’s no vaccine for malaria although research is underway and shows promise.

Malaria can be prevented by following these steps:

•    Researching malaria areas before travel.
•    Use insect repellent, covering arms and legs, and using a mosquito net. Insecticidal nets provide good protection
•    Take anti-malaria tablets and finish the course. They are 90% effective. Brand names include mefloquine, doxycycline, atovaquone and proguanil. Some of these medications need to be taken in advance of traveling.
•    People feeling unwell after travel to a malarial area should seek medical advice immediately and up to a year afterwards.

10. Treatment

A blood test will confirm malaria and treatment must begin immediately afterwards.

Treatment usually consists of taking anti-malarial tablets. Those already taking medicine will not be treated with the same type, so keeping a note of medication is essential during and after travel.

A treatment will be selected depending on the type of malaria, where it was transmitted, severity of the symptoms, what medicines have already been taken, age, and in women - whether or not she is pregnant because some anti-malarial treatments are not suitable for pregnant women.

In severe cases malaria may be treated intravenously in hospital.

Many people who are not affected by malaria underestimate its effects. Those traveling to infected countries must ensure they have taken the appropriate anti-malarial treatment. Those not able to take medication should seriously reconsider their plans.

Despite efforts to eradicate malaria, The World Health Organization says that anti-malarial drug resistance and insecticidal resistance are growing concerns. Malaria is still a threat to human life and must be taken seriously.

This is a guest blog entry.

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