Small Bite: Big Threat: Malaria

dengue-and-malaria_240x240What is Malaria?
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.

Malaria is preventable and curable. Increased malaria prevention and control measures are dramatically reducing the malaria burden in many places. Non-immune travellers from malaria-free areas are very vulnerable to the disease when they get infected.

According to the latest estimates, released in December 2013, there were about 207 million cases of malaria in 2012 (with an uncertainty range of 135 million to 287 million) and an estimated 627 000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473 000 to 789 000).

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, called “malaria vectors”, which bite mainly between dusk and dawn.

Malaria is transmitted exclusively through the bites of Anopheles mosquitoes. The intensity of transmission depends on factors related to the parasite, the vector, the human host, and the environment.

Transmission also depends on climatic conditions that may affect the number and survival of mosquitoes, such as rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity. In many places, transmission is seasonal, with the peak during and just after the rainy season.

Malaria epidemics can occur when climate and other conditions suddenly favour transmission in areas where people have little or no immunity to malaria. They can also occur when people with low immunity move into areas with intense malaria transmission, for instance to find work, or as refugees.

Human immunity is another important factor, especially among adults in areas of moderate or intense transmission conditions. Partial immunity is developed over years of exposure, and while it never provides complete protection, it does reduce the risk that malaria infection will cause severe disease.

Malaria is an acute febrile illness. In a non-immune individual, symptoms appear seven days or more (usually 10–15 days) after the infective mosquito bite.

The first symptoms – fever, headache, chills and vomiting – may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria.

Children with severe malaria frequently develop one or more of the following symptoms: severe anaemia, respiratory distress in relation to metabolic acidosis, or cerebral malaria.

In adults, multi-organ involvement is also frequent. In malaria endemic areas, persons may develop partial immunity, allowing asymptomatic infections to occur.

Who is at risk?
Approximately half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, Latin America, and to a lesser extent the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected. In 2013, 97 countries and territories had ongoing malaria transmission.

Specific population risk groups include:

  1. young children in stable transmission areas who have not yet developed protective immunity against the most severe forms of the disease;
  2. non-immune pregnant women as malaria causes high rates of miscarriage and can lead to maternal death;
  3. semi-immune pregnant women in areas of high transmission. Malaria can result in miscarriage and low birth weight, especially during first and second pregnancies;
  4. semi-immune HIV-infected pregnant women in stable transmission areas, during all pregnancies. Women with malaria infection of the placenta also have a higher risk of passing HIV infection to their newborns;
  5. people with HIV/AIDS;
  6. international travellers from non-endemic areas because they lack immunity;
  7. immigrants from endemic areas and their children living in non-endemic areas and returning to their home countries to visit friends and relatives are similarly at risk because of waning or absent immunity.

Is Malaria contagious?
Malaria is not a contagious disease. If one person is infected by malaria, it does not spread to another person, unless a mosquito, the carrier of the disease, bites the infected person and then subsequently bites a non-infected person.

Diagnosis and treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and malaria_240x240prevents deaths. It also contributes to reducing malaria transmission.

Vector control is the main way to reduce malaria transmission at the community level. It is the only intervention that can reduce malaria transmission from very high levels to close to zero.

For individuals, personal protection against mosquito bites represents the first line of defence for malaria prevention.

Two forms of vector control are effective in a wide range of circumstances.

Home Remedies

  1. Cinnamon is known for its medicinal values. When consumed with honey and pepper it is known to bring down high temperatures. Also cinnamon tea is equally beneficial in boosting your immune system and helps bring down fever.
  2. Grapefruit is known as the “most effective” cure for malaria. Cut a grapefruit into quarters and boil them. Separate the thick pulp from the juice needed by straining it. Drink the juice regularly.
  3. Tulsi (holy basil), can be chewed, consumed as a paste or infused in water and taken daily. This will keep the severity of the disease in check.
  4. To prevent further transmission of malaria, neem leaves can be burnt as the smoke of these leaves keeps away mosquitoes.

Vaccines against malaria
There are currently no licensed vaccines against malaria or any other human parasite.

With inputs from: World Health Organization
Images: Image 1: WHO/J. Gusmao 
Image 2: WHO/S. Hollyman