The World Health Organization estimates that each year 300-500 million cases of malaria occur and more than 1 million people die of malaria, especially in developing countries. Most deaths occur in young children.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans.
Which parts of the body does malaria usually infect?
Mosquitoes inject the malaria parasites into small blood vessels in the skin. From there they travel through the bloodstream to the liver, where they develop and multiply in liver cells before again entering the bloodstream and invading other body systems in order to reproduce further. Other internal organs, including the brain, can be affected.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
Symptoms from malaria usually begin from 7 days to 30 days after the bite from an infected mosquito. Most people, at the beginning of the disease, have fever, sweats, chills, headaches, malaise, muscles aches, nausea and vomiting. Malaria can very rapidly become a severe and life-threatening disease.
How is Malaria Transmitted?
Usually, people get malaria by being bitten by an infective female Anopheles mosquito. Only anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria and they must have been infected through a previous blood meal taken on an infected person. When a mosquito bites an infected person, a small amount of blood is taken in which contains microscopic malaria parasites. About 1 week later, when the mosquito takes its next blood meal, these parasites mix with the mosquito’s saliva and are injected into the person being bitten.
Because the malaria parasite is found in red blood cells of an infected person malaria can also transmitted through blood transfusion, organ transplant, or the shared use of needles or syringes contaminated with blood. Malaria may also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn infant before or during delivery (“congenital” malaria).
How to prevent malaria?
There are three main ways to prevent malaria:
- Prevent mosquitoes from biting people: Use mosquito nets (ordinary or insecticide-treated) for the windows in the house or, at least, in rooms where people sleep; use mosquito repellents.
- Control mosquito breeding: Eliminate places where mosquitoes can lay eggs; reclaim land by filling and draining; introduce special insecticides in the water to kill mosquito larvae.
- Kill adult mosquitoes : Spray rooms with insecticides before going to be; and participate in activities carried out by the health services, such as spraying the inside walls of houses with insecticides that kill mosquitoes.
Is there a vaccine for malaria?
Currently, there is no malaria vaccine approved for human use. The malaria parasite is a genetically complex organism with a multifaceted life cycle. The parasite is constantly changing within the human host and therefore, developing a vaccine against malaria has been and continues to be very difficult. The development of a malaria vaccine is considered to be one of the most important research projects in public health because other methods of fighting the disease including drugs, insecticides and bed nets- have not succeeded in eliminating it.
Remember, malaria is dangerous. But it is preventable through a multi-sectoral effort to address and control the problem by individuals, community, media and their sectors.