Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via infected mosquitoes.
The parasites multiply in liver, before entering the bloodstream and infecting red blood cells.
Although malaria is preventable and treatable, the World Health Organisation estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa, one child dies every minute from the disease.
How is it transmitted?
Only female Anopheles mosquitoes are able to transmit the disease. These types of mosquitoes pick up the parasite Plasmodium by biting infected humans. The parasite multiplies in the mosquito (also known as “malaria vectors”). When the mosquitoes bite again, the parasites enter the person’s blood stream.
Transmission is more frequent in places where the lifespan of the mosquito is longer, as this gives the parasite time to multiply in the mosquito.
Through repeated exposure, humans in endemic areas can build partial immunity to malaria. It doesn’t completely protect them from the disease, but it can reduce its severity.
What are the symptoms?
Within the first week of infection, the patient will have a fever, headaches, chills and vomiting – which makes malaria difficult to recognise initially.
If malaria isn’t treated within 24 hours, it could result in severe illness and even death.
Who is at risk?
People who are most at risk include:
Young children living in transmission areas who haven’t developed immunity against malariaPregnant women who aren’t immune or semi-immune.People with HIV/AIDSPeople travelling to endemic areas who aren’t immune to malaria
What is the global prevalence of malaria?
The WHO estimates that around 3.4 billion people – or half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria.
In 2013, 97 countries have ongoing malaria transmission. In 2012, there were 207 million malaria cases and 627,000 people who died from the illnessAround 90 per cent of all malaria death happen in sub-Saharan Africa, but places like Latin America and Asia are also affected.Around 40 per cent of malaria deaths occur in just two countries: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.86 per cent of malaria deaths are of children under the age of five. In sub-Saharan Africa, a child dies every minute from malaria.
Is it preventable?
The best way to control malaria transmission is via prevention. Wearing protective clothing, using insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and spraying houses with insecticides are effective ways to reduce malaria transmission.
Antimalarial drugs can also be used to prevent the disease, particularly when travelling to endemic countries.
How is malaria treated?
People suspected of contracting malaria need to be diagnosed before they can receive antimalarial treatment. If diagnostic tests are found to be positive, patients must be treated within 24 hours.
Treatment depends on the severity of the malaria. For uncomplicated malaria, the WHO recommends artemisinin-based combination therapies.
Unfortunately, resistance to antimalarial drugs is a recurring problem. However, researchers are currently developing a malaria vaccine that could help protect infants and children from the disease.