Malaria: symptoms, causes, treatment
Malaria – is an infectious disease caused by parasitic protozoans (a group of single-celled microorganism) and transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. It a serious life-threatening blood disease showing symptoms of chills and fever following each other. After a person is infected parasites multiply in the liver and thereafter infect and destroy red blood cells.
The disease can be treated though if it’s discovered early. But, unfortunately in some countries and areas people do not have enough of medical knowledge to recognize and control it. So malaria kills around one million people every year worldwide.
World health authorities are trying to reduce cases of malaria by distributing bed nets to protect people from mosquitoes. Scientists are working on special vaccine which is still not discovered.
Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites. These parasites are getting to humans body through infected mosquitoes. There are five different types of parasite species that can cause malaria:
- Plasmodium falciparum – is spread in tropical and suburban areas, but most of all in Africa.
- Plasmodium vivax – is spread in Latin America, Africa and Asia
- Plasmodium ovale – is located in West Africa and biologically similar to Plasmodium vivax
- Plasmodium malariae – is widespread worldwide and able to cause chronic infection that will exist all life
- Plasmodium knowlesi – is located in Southeast Asia
There are also some rare cases when people can be infected by it after contact with a blood of a sick person. Additionally, some researchers identified that fetus can get this disease from mother. However, it’s not possible to be affected only if you stay near person who has malaria.
It is transmitted through the bites of Anopheles mosquitos. The deepness of transmission depends on few factors as parasite, vector, human host and environment.
Transmission is possible in the places where the mosquitos can live longer and have time for development or where is more preferable to bite human than animal. For instance, African vector species have the longest lifespan and it is the main reason why about 90 % of malaria deaths happen in Africa.
Also, transmission depends on climate such rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity. In some places, transmission is seasonal and can be visible only during or after rain.
The human factor is associated with immunity because when individual has little or no immunity to this disease, it makes this person more sensitive. Partial immunity can be developed after years of exposure, and even it doesn’t provide the full protection it makes you more resistant to severe form of malaria.
Symptoms of malaria
It symptoms can be divided into two groups: uncomplicated and severe. Uncomplicated symptoms occur when there are no clinical or laboratory signs to identify the severity. Patients with malaria of this stage can develop severe malaria if the disease is ignored or person has weak immunity system. During this period malaria has flu-like symptoms.
Severe malaria is found by clinical evidence of organ dysfunction. This stage can lead to fatal outcome if left untreated. Following symptoms can occur within it:
- Fever and chills
- Vomiting and nausea
- Impaired consciousness
- Sweating after body temperature falls
- Abnormal bleeding
- Deep breathing
- Evidence of vital organ dysfunction
Children with severe malaria can develop severe anemia, respiratory distress.
The less resistant to malaria group of people include:
- young children in transmission areas who have not developed immunity against severe form of this
- non-immune pregnant women and semi-immune pregnant women in areas of high transmission
- people with HIV/AIDS
- travellers from non-epidemic areas
Early diagnosis is important for a patient’s recovery and preventing death.
Doctors can use thick and thin blood smears in order to find it parasites in your blood. These tests should be performed if a patient has been in areas of transmission and has flu-like symptoms.
Malaria is usually confirmed by microscopic examination of blood smears. Even if it’s the most common way to find malaria, it needs specific conditions as equipment and well-qualified person who can check the blood.
As alternative, you may apply for antigen-based rapid diagnostic test (RDT). RDT is commercially available and more accurate. Moreover, these tests can produce results in less than 15 minutes.
Additional tests that may be done are liver function test to check for liver damage, a blood glucose test to measure the amount of glucose in blood or complete blood count (CBC) to check for anemia.
Prevention of this includes protecting yourself from mosquitos and using antimalarial medicines. Health authorities recommend for children and pregnant women to be more attentive and avoid traveling to transmission areas. In order to prevent malaria follow few main rules:
- Stay inside when it’s dark outside.
- Wear protective clothing (cloth should cover your body well).
- Use bed nets sprayed with insecticide as permethrin or deltamethrin.
- Use insect repellent with DEET (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).
- Use flying-insect spray around sleeping areas.
- Avoid areas where malaria is present if you are not resistant to it.
If it already affected your body, it should be treated as soon as possible to prevent fatal consequences.
A vaccine for this disease is still not found, but there are some achievements in treatment issue.
The best option for treatment for P.falciparum it is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). Artemisinin is produced by plant Artemisia annua and famous by its capacity to reduce the number of Plasmodium parasites in the bloodstream. ACT is artemisinin mixed with other drugs.
Additional antimalarial drugs are chloroquine, quinine sulfate, hydroxychloroquine, lumefantrine, mefloquine, combination of atovaquone and proguanil.
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