To many in West Africa, malaria is a common disease that residents are well acquainted and have dealt with several times, to some, this is a disease that you have done some reading on or heard off. While to a very few, malaria is the name of a parasite spread around by mosquitos. Whichever category you fall under, the basic gist is it’s a life-threatening disease.
Background and definition:
A protozoan parasite causes malaria. This parasite is known as Plasmodium. These plasmodia are of five species:
** Deadly Plasmodium
P.falciparum is most common in West Africa. It is responsible for a significant percentage of malaria-related deaths in the world. Because it multiplies rapidly, P. falciparum causes severe blood loss and also clogs blood vessels.
P. vivax, on the other hand, is predominant in Asia and Latin America. This species lies dormant in your bloodstream for months, even years after the mosquito bite and suddenly infects your blood.
Only the female Anopheles Mosquito transmit the malaria parasite. As seen above, the malaria cycle starts when an infected mosquito (carrier) bites and sucks the blood of an uninfected person. While doing this, the mosquito releases the parasites into the victim's bloodstream. These malaria parasites then migrate to the liver of the victim where some species like p.falciparum incubate for 10-15 days.
When the parasites mature, they leave the victims liver and infects the red blood cells. The parasites get into your red blood cells, lay eggs, and multiplies. The parasites make the red cells to burst, releasing more of the parasites into your bloodstream. This cycle continues until the symptoms of malaria begin to manifest. The sequence is replicated multiple times until more people get infected with malaria in the community.
While the mosquitos are considered as the major transmitter of malaria, there are other modes of malaria transmission. They include:
• From pregnant mother to unborn child.
• Blood transfusion with malaria-infected blood.
• Sharing of needles with the malaria-infected victim.
These mode of transfers are possible because the malaria parasite infects the red blood cells and as a result, any medium that allows blood contact between an infected and an uninfected person can transmit malaria.
The symptoms of malaria begin to manifest 10-15 days after the infected mosquito bite. However, it is essential to note the early signs of the disease are very similar to that of the cold or the flu. Thus, it may be challenging to ascertain if they are signs of malaria by mere manifestations of these symptoms. The symptoms of malaria are:
• Fever (this is the main symptom of malaria)
• Nausea and vomiting
• Shivering and Chills
• Muscle pain and fatigue
• Profuse sweating
• Chest and abdominal pain
Some people experience what is called Attacks when suffering from malaria. Attacks occur when a victim shuttles between the symptoms of malaria. They can start with shivering and chill, then high fever, then sweating profusely and after that return to normal temperature as if nothing happened. And, the cycle begins over again.
Certain factors may increase one's risk of getting malaria. The biggest of them all is to live in areas or visit areas where this disease is rampant
Malaria affects everyone, but people with a higher risk of getting malaria are:
• Children under the age of five.
• Pregnant women.
• People are living with HIV/AIDS.
These people are higher risk because they have a weaker immune system and thus are more prone to the disease.
Complications from Malaria:
As stated earlier, malaria is a life-threatening disease and when not diagnosed and treated immediately can result in other complications. As a matter of facts malaria-related deaths are due to one or more of the following difficulties:
• Anemia - This occurs when the malaria parasite damages the red blood cells.
•Organ failure - Malaria can also cause the liver and kidney to fail; it can also rupture your spleen.
•Low blood sugar - Malaria in its severe form can cause hypoglycemia which is a medical condition where the blood sugar level is low. Also, quinine which is a very common medication used to treat malaria can also cause hypoglycemia. Severe hypoglycemia can lead to coma or even death.
•Cerebral malaria - This is a condition where malaria parasite-filled blood obstructs the small blood vessels that lead to the brain. This may result in brain swelling or even brain damage and consequently lead to seizures, coma, and even death.
•Breathing failure - This may occur as a result of pulmonary edema which is the accumulation of fluid in your lungs. This makes breathing extremely difficult and even painful in most cases.
Prevention of any disease is often considered as the cheapest and most effective approach to it. Hence, the need to take preventive measures against malaria is necessary. If you are living in or traveling to areas considered as hotbeds of malaria (African countries, The Asian subcontinent, New Guinea, The Dominican Republic, and Haiti), you should take the following preventive measures:
Cover your skin - Wear long-sleeved clothes and pants that cover your skin
Use mosquito repellent - These are in the form of insecticides, sprays, creams, etc.
Sleep under a mosquito net - In cases where a mosquito repellant is not available or practicable, try and get a mosquito net. The treated mosquito net is highly recommended.
Take antimalarial drugs when necessary - If a mosquito bites you, talk to your doctor to prescribe antimalarial drugs for you. This is to prevent possible infection from developing into clinical disease.
Seek diagnosis - If you get a fever after entering a malaria hotbed area or even after leaving such area, seek medical diagnosis and treatment immediately.
Malaria is diagnosed using the blood smear test. This blood smear test is so effective because it doesn’t just diagnose malaria; it helps the doctors know the type of malaria and the number of malaria parasites in your blood.
Tests that are used to check for malaria are:
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test.
Complete Blood Count (CBC) test.
Blood Glucose Test.
Although there are numerous attempts and research going on in the world to develop a safe and effective vaccine, and there are a few pilot programs, and testing that is going on that promises a positive result, there is still no malaria vaccine that has been approved by any world health regulatory body as safe for human use.