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Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Malaria is a disease passed through the blood. It is typically passed to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito but can also be passed from mother to unborn child or during a blood transfusion from an infected donor.

Causes

Malaria is caused by a specific type of parasite.

Most often, a mosquito picks up the parasite when it bites someone with malaria. The mosquito can pass the parasite to a new person when it bites them. The parasite then travels to and multiplies in the liver.

After several days, the new parasites leave the liver and pass into the bloodstream. The parasite infect the red blood cells and within 48 hours the infected red blood cells burst. The parasites then go on to infect more red blood cells.

Malaria Cycle

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Risk Factors

Living in or traveling to hot, humid climates where Anopheles mosquitoes are common is the most common risk factor for malaria. Africa, Asia, and Latin America all have areas where malaria is common. The majority of fatal cases are found in tourists visiting game parks and other rural areas in east Africa.

Your chance of getting malaria increases dramatically if basic prevention step listed below are not followed.

Symptoms

There are no symptoms in the early stage of infection.

Symptoms usually begin within 10 days to four weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms may include:

  • Recurrent fevers (as high as 106°F [41.1°C])
  • Chills and sweats
  • Muscles aches
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin or eyes)
  • Dark or discolored urine

Seek medical care right away for any illness with high fever. Without treatment, the cycle of red blood cell destruction and fever will continue. This can lead to death.

Some types of malaria may not produce symptoms for a year or more. The severity of symptoms and death rate are often associated with the specific type of malaria.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and travel history. A physical exam will be done. Malaria will be diagnosed with blood tests. The blood test will also help identify the specific type of parasite causing your infection.

Treatment

Prescription drugs are used to treat malaria by killing the parasites. The choice of an antimalarial agent depends on:

  • Specific type of parasite
  • Severity and stage of infection
  • Area of the world you may have contracted malaria. Certain areas have types of malaria that are resistance to certain drugs.

Medications will also be given to reduce fever which may shorten the infection time.

Prevention

To reduce your chance of getting malaria when in a high risk area:

  • Visit with a travel clinic or your doctor before your trip. Review what preventative medications you may need.
  • If required, take antimalarial medication before, during, and after travel. Follow your doctor's instructions.
  • Use DEET insect repellent when outside. A higher percentage of DEET will protect your for a longer period of time.
  • Use proper mosquito netting at night. Look for netting treated with insecticide.
  • Do not rely on electronic mosquito repellents. These devices do not prevent mosquito bites.
  • Use flying insect spray in non air-conditioned rooms while sleeping.
  • Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
  • Avoid being outdoors from dusk to dawn. This is when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Stay in air-conditioned or screened rooms when possible.
RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control

http://www.cdc.gov/

World Health Organization

http://www.who.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Public Health Agency of Canada

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/

References:

Malaria: topic home. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/Malaria/. Updated August 9, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2013.

Malaria and Travelers. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/index.html. Accessed May 20, 2013.

Malaria. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated May 3, 2013. Accessed May 20, 2013.

8/31/2009 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php: Enayati A, Hemingway J, Garner P. Electronic mosquito repellents for preventing mosquito bites and malaria infection. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(2):CD005434.

8/20/2013 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php: Purssell E, While AE. Does the use of antipyretics in children who have acute infections prolong febrile illness? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Pediatr. 2013 May 7.

10/1/2013 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamicmedical.com/what.php: Reimer LJ, Thomsen EK, Tisch DJ, et al. Insecticidal bed nets and filariasis transmission in Papua New Guinea. N Eng J Med. 2013 Aug 22; 369(8):745-53.

Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.