Malaria is a severe life-threatening disease that is spread by infected female anopheles mosquito bite. The symptoms appears 10-28 days after exposure to the infection and they include fever, headache, nausea and general body pain. The disease can be cured and prevented. However, late diagnosis or untreated malaria can present serious complications that threatens life continuity. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2018 an estimated 228 million cases of malaria were recorded worldwide and the death toll rose to 405,000.
In today’s article will be discussing the meaning of malaria causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is a severe life-threatening disease that is spread through the bite of infected female anopheles mosquito. Plasmodium parasite causes malaria and they are found in the tropical and subtropical climates.
According to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2000 malaria cases are diagnosed and recorded in the United States annually. When an infected mosquito bite you, the plasmodium parasite is introduced into your bloodstream through the saliva of the mosquito and symptoms occurs after the incubation period of the parasite.
What Causes Malaria?
The parasite that cause malaria is known as Plasmodium and there are over 100 types of the parasite. However only 5 of plasmodium parasite infect human and cause malaria and they include; P. falciparum, P. Vivax, P malariae, P. knowlesi and P. ovale. Of these 5, the most dangerous species of plasmodium is P. vivax and P. falciparum. Plasmodium parasite and widely distributed in the tropical and subtropical countries. When plasmodium parasite is introduced into your body through infected insect bite, it goes directly into your liver where it grows, matures and then enters into the bloodstream to affect the red blood cells. The onset of symptoms is usually 10 – 28 days after exposure to the infection and the symptoms are usually mild at the beginning of infection but when they are left untreated they can cause serious complication that threatens the existence of life.
What are the Symptoms of Malaria?
The symptoms of malaria appears after 10-28 days of exposure to the infection. Some early symptoms might be experienced after 7 days following infection while others may show up after several months. The following and the common symptoms of malaria:
- Body ache
- Severe headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme fatigue
- Stool with blood
- Muscle pain
- Abdominal cramps
The complications that can arise from untreated malaria include chronic anemia, kidney failure, coma, convulsion, liver failure, low blood sugar, cerebral malaria and respiratory difficulties.
When do I need to see a Doctor to Check if I have Malaria?
You need to see your doctor for proper diagnosis of malaria if you experience the above symptoms or if you have a travel history to tropical or subtropical countries where the disease is prevalent. It is crucial to visit the clinic for malaria test even if it has been several weeks or months that you have returned from countries where the disease is common. Some malaria parasites can remain in a dormant state in your liver for several months and up to five years. Therefore book an appointment and see your doctor for proper diagnostic test if you experience any symptoms of malaria.
Diagnosis of Malaria
The most effective way of diagnosing malaria in the clinic is by examining the blood sample under the microscope for the presence of malaria parasite called Plasmodium.
To diagnose malaria, your doctor will review your medical history and travel history to where malaria is most common. He or she will also perform a physical examination on You by asking about the symptoms you are experiencing and the medications you have been using. The following are diagnostic test that can be carried out to detect malaria:
- Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT): it targets the antigen of the malaria parasite in the blood sample of the patient and a positive result is indicated by change in colour on the test strips. Rapid Diagnostic Test or antigen test is used as an alternative to microscopy test but the limitation of this test is that it cannot tell the specific plasmodium species that is responsible for the infection.
- Serology test: this test is used to detect antibodies in the blood which is the immune response to malaria parasite. Serology test does not diagnose current infection but it can only reveal if a person has been previously exposed to malaria parasite.
- Molecular test: it is also known as polymerase chain reaction, this test applifies the DNA of the plasmodium parasite and identify it to the specie level. It is more sensitive and accurate and can be used as an alternative test when blood smear microscopy result is unclear. Molecular test can typically detect malaria parasite even if the blood sample contains few counts of the parasites.
- Drug-resistant test: this test is used to determine susceptibility of the parasite to anti-malaria drugs. It is carried out in the laboratory either by growing the parasite in a culture in an increasing concentration of drug and observing the inhibitory growth of the parasite or by detecting markers that indicate drug resistance in the gene sequences of the malaria parasite.
- Blood test: it is carried out by preparing the blood smear on a clean grease free slide, staining it with a special dye and observing it under the microscope for the presence of malaria parasite. It is one of the most common method of diagnosing malaria in the laboratory and the accuracy of this test depends on the quality of the reagent used and the experience of the laboratory technician.
Treatment of Malaria
The treatment of malaria should commence immediately the disease is diagnosed. The choice of treatment depends on the specie of the malaria parasite detected, severity of the disease and the parasite resistant to antimalarial drugs. The medications for malaria can be prescribed by your doctor and gotten over the counter. For instance P. vivax and P. falciparum are 2 dangerous species of Plasmodium and they require combinations of drugs for effective treatment. In the case of severe malaria the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that severe malaria should be treated with intravenous antimalarial medications.
During the course of treatment some Plasmodium species might also be resistant to antimalaria drugs and your doctor may recommend combinations of drugs or changing the drug to another type to effectively treat and cure the disease.
Prevention of Malaria
Malaria is usually caused by infected mosquito bite. If you are travelling to countries where malaria is prevalent it is important to talk to your doctor so that medications that will prevent the disease can be prescribed.
The drugs recommended to prevent malaria are the same drugs that are used to treat the disease. Therefore, the time you will be traveling and the location should be made known to your doctor so that he or she can prescribe the best medication that will prevent the malaria based on the parasite that is most common in the region you are traveling to. Avoiding mosquito bite is another effective and safety measures that can be taken to prevent malaria.
The following are the ways of preventing mosquito bites:
- Sleep under nets that are treated with insecticides
- Cover your own skin with clothes if you are in an area where there is a lot of mosquitoes
- Apply insect repellant on your skin to avoid mosquito bites
- Spray insecticides in your homes
- Eliminate stagnant water from your environment; this is because mosquito lay egg in stagnant water on slow moving water
- Swimming pool should be kept clean always and chlorinated even when they are not being used
Is there a Vaccine for Malaria?
There is no approved vaccine for malaria. However scientists all over the world are putting in so much effort to develop vaccine that will effectively prevent the infection. Malaria can be prevented and cured by properly taking medications based on doctor’s prescription and following safety measures to prevent the disease.