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What is malaria?

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Malaria is commonly known as a fever that can be contracted by mosquitoes when traveling to an exotic country. This is true, but there is so much more to the disease that affects nearly half the global population.

Malaria is a disease that is caused by a parasite. In order for the life cycle of the parasite to function, two hosts are needed: namely the anopheles mosquitoes and humans. A mosquito that carries the parasite will transmit the disease into the human body when biting them. The disease will enter the human’s blood stream, where it will make its way to the liver. From there it will affect the body’s red blood cells. This phase, where the parasite matures in the liver, is called the incubation period, and can last anywhere from 7 to 30 days before the first symptoms appear, the Center for Disease Control writes.

The CDC lists the following as the most common symptoms of malaria:

More complicated infections of malaria carry far more severe symptoms, including neurologic abnormalities (seizure, coma), kidney failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome. To find out more about the symptoms, please click here to go to the CDC website.

Malaria usually occurs in stages. It begins with a “cold stage”, where the patient may shiver and feel cold. This is followed by what is called “the hot stage”, where the patient will present symptoms of fever and headaches. The third stage is referred to as the “sweat stage”, where the patient’s temperature slowly returns to normal and sweats.

Malaria is typically diagnosed via a blood test, in which a lab technician will recognize the parasite (under a microscope) in the patient’s red blood cells.

Anopheles mosquito

Where does malaria exist?

When considering malaria affects nearly half the world population, one could assume it is found in 50 percent of the globe. Not so. Malaria is restricted to these key areas: Central Africa, India, some parts of South East Asia, and some parts of Latin America. For a map of where malaria occurs and what conditions it needs to survive, click here.

How is malaria treated?

The first and most important step in treatment is prevention. Prophylactic drugs are currently available for individuals to consume before and during trips to where malaria exists. This oral medication that are used to treat patients suffering from malaria, are also used (in smaller dosages) preventatively, Wikipedia.org writes.

Another effective method to prevent malaria include long-lasting nets to sleep in, and indoor residual spraying, in which insecticides are sprayed onto the walls of the home. These practices are currently being implemented strongly in Africa, where one in five babies will die because of malaria.

Other tips include having mosquito repellent with you at all times, and spraying your body and your clothing with it.

While generations of research have been put into finding a malaria vaccine, no effective vaccine has so far been found. Malaria is generally not a fatal disease, particularly in a mild form, however appropriate medical care is a necessity.

Read our coverage of World Malaria Day.

Images: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/391233, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anopheles_albimanus_mosquito.jpg

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