25th April is observed as World Malaria Day every year. The theme for 2019 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 and a major public health problem in India. India contributes to around 70% of malaria cases and 69% of malaria deaths in the South-East Asia Region. The World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2017 Global Report showed an estimated 13.1 million cases and 23,990 deaths due to malaria in India for the year. Caused by mosquitoes, malaria can be prevented with simple techniques. To spread awareness on this World Malaria Day, we shed light on some of the most common yet frequently asked questions about this condition.
Top 10 FAQs on Malaria Answered!
1. What is the first sign of malaria?
Malaria can cause a wide variety of symptoms that range from no symptoms in the early course of infection to severe symptoms and even death.
After a bite by the infected Anopheles mosquito, it usually takes around a week to a month for the first symptom to appear. This period is known as the incubation period. The incubation period for infection with P.falciparum (a type of malarial parasite, Plasmodium) is shorter as compared to the one with P.malariae (another malarial parasite). In most cases, it takes around 10-15 days for the symptoms to appear after a mosquito bite.
The first symptoms – fever, headache, and chills – may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria. Some people with malaria experience cycles of malaria “attacks”, which usually starts with shivering and chills, followed by a high fever and sweating before it returns to normal temperature.
More commonly, the patient may present a combination of symptoms such as fever, chills, sweats, headaches, body aches, weakness, nausea, and vomiting.
2. How is malaria caused?
In most cases, malaria is transmitted when an infected female Anopheles mosquito bites you. Anopheles mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, which hatch into larvae, eventually emerging as adult mosquitoes. These adult female mosquitoes feed on blood to nurture their eggs. So if an infected mosquito bites you, you get infected with the parasite and suffer from malaria. Kids and pregnant women are at high risk due to low immunity and high susceptibility. The risk of transmission is high during rains, changing temperature and humidity.
3. What are the 5 types of malaria?
Malaria parasites belong to the genus Plasmodium. 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%)].
Malaria in India is mainly caused by P.falciparum and P.vivax although cases of malaria from P.ovale and P.malariae are also reported in some parts of the country. P. vivax is more prevalent in the plains whereas P. falciparum predominates in forested and peripheral areas.
4. How long does it take to recover from malaria?
It depends on various factors such as the severity of the disease, the species of Plasmodium causing the infection, immunity of the patient, and the potential drug resistance of the species. In general, it may take around two weeks of treatment for malaria to be treated.
If admitted in a hospital, your doctor may prescribe medications based on the type of parasite. In some cases, the medication may fail to show improvement due to drug resistance by the parasite. In such a case, your doctor may use more than one medication or change the medication to treat your condition. Malaria can be a life-threatening condition if not treated properly.
5. How do you detect malaria?
If your doctor suspects malaria, he/she might recommend blood tests to diagnose the condition. Some of the common tests used to detect malaria are:
-Blood smears in which malarial parasites can be seen with thin and thick blood smears under a microscope.
-Rapid antigen tests
-Polymerase Chain Reaction(PCR)
-Susceptibility testing is to determine drug susceptibility of the parasite causing the infection.
Other tests such as complete blood count (CBC) along with tests to detect severe anemia, hypoglycemia, renal failure, hyperbilirubinemia, and acid-base disturbances might be recommended.
6. Is malaria serious?
Malaria is a serious condition which if left unattended may lead to death. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented with proper diagnosis, treatment, and care.
If left untreated, it can cause severe organ failure and abnormalities in metabolism. Some of the health complications caused by malaria include:
-Cerebral malaria that causes neurologic abnormalities
-Severe anemia due to the destruction of the red blood cells
-Blood in the urine
-Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) which causes a severe inflammatory reaction in the lungs
-Abnormalities in blood coagulation
-Hypotension or low blood pressure
-Hypoglycemia or low blood glucose
7. Can malaria come back?
Yes, there are high chances that the symptoms of malaria can relapse if you do not follow the treatment properly or if malaria is caused by either the P. ovale or P. vivax. It is reported that one in seven people with these types of malaria may suffer from relapse. Patients with P. vivax and P. ovale infections who have recovered from the current episode might suffer again after months or even years without showing any symptoms. This is because P. vivax and P. ovale parasites might remain dormant in the liver for years which may reactivate any time, especially when the immunity is low.
8. Is malaria contagious?
No, malaria is not contagious and does not spread from one person to person. This means that you do not get malaria by kissing or touching a person suffering from malaria but only when an infected mosquito bites you. It is not a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and only gets transmitted from mosquitoes to humans.
9. How can I prevent malaria?
The best way to prevent and reduce the transmission of malaria is through vector control (preventing mosquitoes to breed, from entering your home and biting you and your family). This can be achieved by the use of devices to control mosquito entry such as nets, sprays, coils or electric bats. You can even plant mosquito-repellent plants such as Tulsi and neem in your garden. Cover your doors and windows with mosquito nets to prevent the entry of mosquitoes in your home.
10. Is there a vaccine for malaria?
RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) is the first and the only vaccine to date to show partial protection against malaria in young children. It acts against P. falciparum infection. The vaccine prevented approximately 4 in 10 cases of malaria over a 4-year period.
If you have any more questions on malaria right from the symptoms and lab tests to treatment and complications, share it in the comments section to get it cleared from our experts.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
1. National Framework For Malaria Elimination In India (2016–2030). DIRECTORATE OF National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) Directorate General Of Health Services (DGHS) Ministry Of Health & Family Welfare Government Of India.
2. Narain JP, Nath LM. Eliminating malaria in India by 2027: The countdown begins! Indian J Med Res. 2018 Aug;148(2):123-126.
3. Disease. About Malaria. Malaria. The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention(CDC).
4. Key Facts. Malaria. The World Health Organization(WHO).