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Malaria – An illness that results from infection with one of four Plasmodium parasites: Plasmodium malariae, P. ovale, P. vivax, and P. falciparum. Bites from the female Anopheles mosquito spread the infection from one person to another. Though malaria has not occurred naturally in the United States since the 1950s, travel to or immigration from regions of the world where malaria is endemic results in about 1300 cases of malaria in the United States each year.
Malaria can be serious or fatal without treatment and is a major cause of death worldwide, particularly in developing nations with limited access to medical resources. Malaria is particularly devastating in the Sahara and sub-Sahara regions of the African continent, where it claims the life of one child every 30 seconds. Extreme poverty, lack of medical resources, and environmental conditions in which mosquito populations flourish converge in these regions, maintaining an endemic presence of malaria that is the most extensive in the world.
Symptoms of Malaria
Plasmodium parasites initially infect liver cells, where they reproduce. They then migrate into erythrocytes (red blood cells), entering the blood circulation. The incubation period ranges from 8 days to several months, after which flulike symptoms emerge that include
- Fever and chills
- Muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin)
- Tiredness or fatigue
Microscopic examination of a blood sample shows the parasites, confirming the diagnosis. Early treatment with medications to kill the Plasmodium parasites is essential, particularly when the infective parasite is P. falciparum, which causes life-threatening illness.
Because antimalarial medications are effective against the parasites in the blood, it is essential to continue treatment through several life cycles of the parasites to kill those emerging from the liver.
Only one antimalarial medication, primaquine, can kill liverbased Plasmodium. The specific medications and length of treatment depend on the type of infection, region of the world where the person acquired the infection, and the person’s age and other health circumstances.
Medications to Treat Malaria
|MEDICATIONS TO TREAT MALARIA|
Prevention of Malaria
Aggressive mosquito-control measures are the most successful preventive approach. These measures include public health efforts to eradicate mosquito populations, such as through insecticide application and eliminating standing water that serves as mosquito breeding grounds, and personal prevention efforts, such as wearing clothing that protects against mosquito bites.
People planning travel to regions where Plasmodium infection is possible should take prophylactic medications.
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