Malaria; Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Malaria is a very rare (but critical), disease with fewer than 20,000 US cases per year. Malaria is treatable by a medical professional and is spread by animals or insects. It requires a medical diagnosis, and lab tests or imaging are always required!

The good news is that it’s a short-term disease: resolves within days to weeks.

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.

Malaria is potentially life-threatening, and if you are left untreated, it leads 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 | 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.