Malaria; Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

In tropical countries, the incidence of diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and parasites is alarmingly high. That is one of the reasons why you want to stay safe and get your vaccines before traveling to these locations. Malaria is one of these diseases. It is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium falciparum. This is a protozoan, a type of parasitic entity similar to the cause of amebiasis. But unlike amoebas, P. falciparum reaches your organism through the female Anopheles mosquito, which is widespread in many tropical countries.

Malaria is potentially life-threatening, and if you are left untreated, it may lead to a very high mortality rate. However, the prognosis is very favorable if the disease is diagnosed and treated promptly. Thus, it is essential to consider your risk of infection if you recently traveled to Central America, South America, some parts of Oceania, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Causes and Plasmodium life cycle

5 Plasmodium species cause this disease, including P. falciparum, P. malariae, P. knowlesi, P. ovale, and P. vivax. One of the most dangerous species is P. falciparum, which is often resistant to treatment. However, most new infections are caused by P. vivax.

Most infections come from one of these species of Plasmodium parasites which are inoculated through a mosquito bite. However, an infection may also result from a blood transfusion when the donor has the disease. This is extremely rare, however. When exposed to the parasite, the individual may trigger an immune response that clears the parasite. When this response is not enough, P. falciparum expands and continues doing so, resulting in the patient’s death in extreme cases.

There is an incubation period after an individual is infected with P. falciparum. Through this time, he may not display symptoms. The incubation period lasts up to 4 weeks, and that is why antimalarial prophylaxis is administered for up to one month after someone returns from an endemic location. Some cases have been recorded in which malaria triggers symptoms one year after exposure, but this is very rare.

As a part of the life cycle, this species infects female mosquitoes because they are the ones who feed on blood. The protozoan stays in the mosquito saliva and remains contained there until a bite transmits some saliva into the human body. Once Plasmodium species enter the organism, they infect red blood cells during incubation. Inside red blood cells, they feed off hemoglobin, the main protein in these cells. They continue growing and multiplying until there are too many and the red blood cell is destroyed, releasing the protozoans into the blood.

Along with the protozoans, the infected red blood cells contain many toxic metabolite byproducts. They are the ones that produce some of the most alarming symptoms of malaria. For example, headaches, chills, malaise, and myalgias come and go in a cyclic pattern because that is when red blood cells are destroyed.