Malaria: Sting menace

Find out why malaria is such a dreaded disease and what you can do to prevent it

mosquito sucking bloodMalaria is a parasitic disease that is spread by the bite of the female anopheles mosquito. In rare cases, it can also be transmitted by blood transfusions. In India, Plasmodium falciparum [P falciparum] and vivax are the most prevalent malarial parasites.

You know it's malaria if you have...

  • Fever with shivering that comes in a cyclical pattern.
  • Shaking chills and fever, followed by sweating lasting for 4–6 hours is a classical sign of malaria. It occurs either every two days or three days depending on the parasite involved.
  • Severe joint pain and backache
  • Vomiting
  • Drop in haemoglobin
  • Heamoglobinuria [Blood in urine]
  • Cough
  • Headache.

Pfalciparum malaria can give rise to bleeding problems, shock, liver or kidney failure, central nervous system problems and coma. Its complications can be fatal. Cerebral malaria [coma, altered mental status or seizures] can also occur if the P falciparum infection is severe. Pregnant women and young children are at a higher risk than the rest of the population.

Diagnosis

The period between the mosquito bite and the onset of the malarial illness is usually 7–21 days. Since symptoms of other diseases are similar to malaria, doctors need to conduct special tests to diagnose malaria. Usually, a blood test called as peripheral smear is done to check for presence of the parasites.

Managing malaria

Prompt diagnosis and correct treatment is extremely important. There are three main factors that determine the course of malaria treatment; the type of infecting parasite, the age and general health of the patient, and the drug-susceptibility of the infecting parasites. Drug treatment usually lasts for about 7 days.

Prevention

The best way to prevent malaria is to keep mosquitoes away. If you can, sleep in a room with mosquito-preventing screens on the windows and doors or use a mosquito net over your bed. Mosquito nets particularly help when you are travelling.

During the evening, wear light-coloured pants and shirts with long sleeves. Avoid going outdoors without protection in the evening as that is the time when mosquitoes are most active. Using a mosquito repellent cream also helps.

According to the World Health Organization [WHO], an estimated 30,000 international travellers get malaria every year. If you are travelling to a destination where malaria is prevalent, take preventive medicine. Consult your doctor to decide the exact course of medicines.

Another often ignored aspect in prevention is education. Research shows that education in recognising the symptoms of malaria has reduced the number of cases by 20 per cent in some areas of the developing world. Identifying the disease in the early stages can also stop its progress.

Recurrent malaria

Recurrence occurs when the parasites are not completely cleared by treatment. In this, latent parasites in the liver re-emerge in active form and enter the blood stream. Thus, declaring a case of malaria as cured, by just the disappearance of parasites from the bloodstream, is therefore not appropriate.

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