Malaria – Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Investigations, Prevention, Treatment, Complication

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. People who suffer from malaria usually feel very sick, develop a high fever, and shaking chills. Malaria is a disease found most commonly in tropical and subtropical regions. If you are traveling to areas where malaria is common, take preventive measures by wearing protective clothing, using insect and mosquito repellants, and sleeping under treated mosquito nets.

Causes of Malaria

Malaria is caused by a microscopic parasite that is present inside the mosquitoes and transmits to humans commonly through mosquito bites. It is caused when the parasite enters the mosquito and transmits the parasite by blood, an organ transplant, transfusion of blood/blood products, or the use of shared needles or syringes.

Symptoms of Malaria

Malaria infection is characterized by the following symptoms:
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle pain and fatigue

Other symptoms and signs may include:

  • Sweating
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Cough

When to See a Doctor?

Consult your doctor if you experience a fever whilst living in or after traveling to a high-risk malaria region. The parasites that cause malaria can lie dormant in your body for a very long time. If you have severe symptoms or any of the aforementioned signs, seek emergency medical attention.

Complications of Malaria

Malaria can be fatal, particularly the one caused by the variety of parasite that’s commonly found in the tropical parts of Africa. In most cases, malaria deaths are related to one or more serious complications, like:
  • Cerebral Malaria
    If parasite filled blood cells block small blood vessels that are connected to your brain, swelling of your brain or brain damage can occur. Cerebral malaria may also cause seizures or put you in the state of coma.
  • Breathing Problems
    Accumulated fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema) can cause difficulty in breathing.
  • Organ Failure
    Malaria can also cause your kidneys or liver to fail. It can also lead to the rupture of your spleen. Any of these conditions can be life-threatening and may result in death.
  • Low Blood Sugar
    Severe forms of malaria can cause low blood sugar, even some of the medications used to combat malaria can result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can result in death or coma.

Prevention

If you live in or are traveling to an area where the disease is common, take preventive steps to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are most active around dusk and dawn; to protect yourself from mosquito bites, you should:
  • Cover your skin
    Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Apply insect repellant to skin and clothing
    The insect repellent contains DEET that can be used on skin and the sprays contain permethrin that is safe to apply to clothes.
  • Sleep under a net
    Bed nets, particularly the ones treated with insecticide. These can help prevent mosquito bites while you are sleeping.

Treatment of Malaria

The treatment aims to eliminate the parasite from the bloodstream. Those with severe symptoms should rush to a hospital for treatment. Your doctor will prescribe medications based on the seriousness of your condition. Additionally, certain types of parasites can cause liver damage and can live in your body for an extended amount of time and reactivate at a later stage causing a relapse of the infection. If you are found to have been infected with one of these parasites, you’ll need a second medication to prevent a relapse in the future. In any case, you need to consult a doctor in case you notice any of the symptoms.

Dr. Divaanshu Gupta

Dr. Divaanshu Gupta is a cardiac anaesthesiologist in Manipal Hospital, Jaipur. He has done his M.B.B.S. as well as M.D. Anaesthesia from S.M.S. Medical College. He has a vast experience of working in various critical care units of government as well as corporate hospitals.

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