25th April is observed as World Malaria Day every year. The theme for this year is “Zero Malaria Starts With Me” with the aim to empower communities to take ownership of malaria prevention and care.
Malaria is one of the oldest and deadliest diseases in the world. India has the third highest malaria burden in the world and carries 4% of the global malaria burden. In fact, it contributes to the largest number of cases (89%) and deaths (90%) in the South-East Asia region. According to the studies, India has made considerable progress in reducing malaria burden over the past 15 years.
WHAT IS MALARIA?
Malaria is a parasitic infection that spreads due to a bite from mosquitoes which breed on stagnant water. During monsoons, water tends to pool in all possible places and does not dry off easily. The small roadside ditches, uneven road surfaces and plastic bags, discarded pots, pans, tyres and containers filled with water are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes to lay eggs on.
This life-threatening disease is caused due to a bite by a female anopheles mosquito infected by the Plasmodium parasite. Since the malaria parasite is found in red blood cells of an infected person, it can also be transmitted through blood transfusions or by shared use of contaminated syringes or needles. Kids and pregnant women are at high risk due to low immunity to malaria and high susceptibility. The risk of transmission is high during rains, changing temperature and humidity.
In humans, malaria is caused by five different species of the parasite. These are P. falciparum, P. malariae, P. ovale, P. vivax and P. knowlesi. Among these, P. falciparum is the most common one (~75%) followed by P. vivax (~20%).
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MALARIA?
Malaria is typically characterized by high fever, shivering or chills followed by sweating, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, sometimes diarrhoea, headache, and body ache. The malarial parasite can remain inactive after entering the body for a long time.
The symptoms are generally periodical, and occur in cycles of 48 or 72 hours depending on the kind of malaria-parasite one is infected with. The cyclical pattern of symptoms is a classical sign of malaria, and prompts the doctor to suspect malaria.
Your doctor will examine the symptoms and check for an enlarged liver or spleen to make a diagnosis. A blood test is advised to determine the presence of malaria parasites and confirm the diagnosis. Malaria can be lethal and may lead to severe complications and requires hospitalization, if misdiagnosed or not treated in time.
HOW IS MALARIA DIAGNOSED?
A simple blood test is prescribed to check for the presence of Malaria parasites in the blood. The test has a dual function of detecting the parasite as well as the species of malaria that is causing the infection. The blood sample is examined on two different slides under the microscope.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?
The medicines prescribed depend on various factors such as the species of malarial parasite and the severity of the disease. Often the doctor prescribes a combination of drugs.
The common drugs prescribed to destroy the parasite are chloroquine, doxycycline, lumefantrine, primaquine, hydroxychloroquine, artemether, artesunate. The type of medications that are used to treat malaria depends on the severity of the disease and the likelihood of chloroquine resistance. Drugs like paracetamol, ibuprofen are prescribed to provide relief from pain, fever and body aches.
WHAT DIET IS PREFERABLE FOR A PATIENT OF MALARIA?
During the active disease
A diet consisting of juices and very light foods like rice, dal, vegetables with minimal fat content is highly recommended. Fresh seasonal fruits and fresh juices such as mangoes, apples, grapes, grapefruits papaya, and pineapple should also be given.
During the recovery period
A diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, paneer, whole grains and nuts is advised. Tulsi is a natural anti-malarial and a few leaves boiled in water may be given daily along with the allopathic medicines.
A diet rich in protein is recommended to help the body repair the damage the infection has dealt. Cereals, pulses, nuts and meats are a great source of protein. Dark leafy green vegetables that are rich in iron, rice and whole grains should be consumed to help patients get back to normal health.
HOW CAN MALARIA BE PREVENTED?
As malaria is spread by mosquitoes, you need to find a way to get rid of mosquitoes.
– Wear full sleeved clothes outdoors to avoid mosquito bites
– Use mosquito screens on doors and windows.
– Use mosquito repellent cream when going outdoors.
– Avoid leaving stagnant water in pots, plants, etc which can act as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
– Empty water from old pots, coolers, tyres and potholes on the road.
– Spray pesticides like DDT on the possible breeding places of mosquitoes.
– Use bed nets for all members of the family during night time.
This World Malaria Day, let’s all pledge to make our home mosquito free. If you have any more questions on malaria including its symptoms, lab tests, treatment and complications, share it in the comments section and we will get it cleared from our experts. Stay safe, stay healthy!
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)
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4. World Malaria Day 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO). https://www.who.int/news-room/campaigns/world-malaria-day/world-malaria-day-2020