Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite, transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. Malaria produces recurrent attacks of chills and fever. Malaria kills an estimated 1 million people each year worldwide.
While the disease is uncommon in temperate climates, malaria is still prevalent in tropical and subtropical countries. World health officials are trying to reduce the incidence of malaria by distributing bed nets to help protect people from mosquito bites as they sleep. Scientists around the world are working to develop a vaccine to prevent malaria.
If you're traveling to locations where malaria is common, take preventive medicine before, during and after your trip. Many malaria parasites are now immune to the most common drugs used to treat the disease.
A malaria infection is generally characterized by recurrent attacks with the following signs and symptoms:
Other signs and symptoms may include:
Malaria signs and symptoms typically begin within a few weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. However, some types of malaria parasites can lie dormant in your body for months, or even years.
When to see a doctor
Malaria is caused by a type of microscopic parasite that's transmitted most commonly by mosquito bites.
Mosquito transmission cycle
Other modes of transmission
Malaria transmission cycle
Malaria spreads when a mosquito infected with malaria parasites bites a noninfected human. The parasites enter that person's bloodstream and migrate to the liver. When the parasites mature, they ...
The biggest risk factor for developing malaria is to live in or to visit tropical areas where the disease is common. Many different subtypes of malaria parasites exist. The variety that causes the most lethal complications is most commonly found in:
Risks of more severe disease
Poverty, lack of knowledge, and little or no access to health care also contribute to malaria deaths worldwide.
Immunity can wane
Malaria can be fatal, particularly the variety that's common in tropical parts of Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa — most commonly in children under the age of 5.
In most cases, malaria deaths are related to one or more of these serious complications:
Malaria may recur
Preparing for your appointment
If you suspect you have malaria or that you've been exposed, you're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to an infectious disease specialist.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Blood tests can show the presence of the parasite and help tailor treatment by determining:
Some blood tests can take several days to complete, while others can produce results in less than 15 minutes.
Treatments and drugs
The types of drugs and the length of treatment will vary, depending on:
The history of antimalarial medicine has been marked by a constant struggle between evolving drug-resistant parasites and the search for new drug formulations. In many parts of the world, for instance, resistance to chloroquine has rendered the drug ineffective.
If you're going to be traveling to a location where malaria is common, talk to your doctor a few months ahead of time about drugs you can take — before, during and after your trip — that can help protect you from malaria parasites.
In general, the drugs taken to prevent malaria are the same drugs used to treat the disease. Your doctor needs to know where you'll be traveling so that he or she can prescribe the drug that will work best on the type of malaria parasite most commonly found in that region.
No vaccine yet
Reducing exposure to mosquitoes
Last Updated: 2013-01-25
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