Malaria is an infectious disease with potentially lethal consequences when not properly treated. As most of us know, it is transmitted by a species of mosquito native to tropics. So while you’re perfectly safe in Europe, if you’re planning a trip to some exotic location around the equator, the risk of getting infected with malaria significantly increases and it is highly recommended to take proper precautions in order to minimize the dangers. As of now, malaria vaccine is still in development, but that does not mean there aren’t other methods and treatments which can make your exotic journey safe. Here, we’ll give a brief overview of malaria facts and try to answer some of the most common questions regarding the origins, prevalence, treatment and prevention of this highly infectious tropical disease.

What’s on this page?

What causes malaria?

Contrary to the popular belief, mosquitos aren’t the root cause of malaria infection. In fact, this disease is caused by parasitic protozoans belonging to the Plasmodium type, while to mosquito is simply the carrier. Once a human is bitten, a small amount of mosquito’s saliva containing the parasites is introduced into the person’s blood, causing the infection. Inside the body, parasites in their sporozoite form travel through the blood vessels to the liver where they start reproducing. By doing so, they infect the new blood cells and initiate a new multiplication cycle which results in the cell bursting, starting the whole process all over again and causing even more damage.

Types of malaria

There are multiple different species of the malaria parasite (Plasmodium) which cause different types of malaria. The four main groups are:

  • Plasmodium Falciparum
  • Plasmodium Vivax
  • Plasmodium Oval
  • Plasmodium Malariae

The most severe cases of malaria sometimes with lethal consequences are usually caused by P. Falciparum, the strain of parasite most commonly found in Africa and the condition caused by its presence in the organism is often denoted as “malignant” malaria type. Others usually cause the milder form of the disease and P. Knowlesi rarely causes any symptoms whatsoever.

How do you know if you have it?

If you’ve been travelling to the tropics and suspect that you might have been bitten by an infected mosquito, you have two options – either visit the doctor immediately or pay attention to possible symptoms manifesting. If you opt for a first option, the doctor will take a blood sample and conduct a microscopic examination using blood films in order to confirm the diagnose.

However, if you don’t have access to the doctor at the moment, it is important to get familiar with the symptoms so you can notice them early. Usually, the symptoms of malignant malaria will manifest within a week after you have been infected, but the onset of the disease can be delayed even for several months, while for milder forms, the incubation period is between ten days and even up to three years. Most common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Muscle cramps
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowish skin colour
  • Seizures
  • Coma

The reason for the potential delay in the onset of symptoms is the fact that parasites causing malaria can lay dormant in the liver for long periods of time. The dormant parasites can even survive the usual treatment, which is why scientists have developed new types of medicines used in these cases.