Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by a eukaryotic protist of the genus Plasmodium. It is widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of the Americas (22 countries), Asia, and Africa. After a period of between two weeks and several months (occasionally years) spent in the liver, the malaria parasites start to multiply within red blood cells, causing symptomsthat include fever, and headache. In severe cases the disease worsens leading to hallucinations, coma, and death.
Five species of the plasmodium parasite can infect humans: the most serious forms of the disease are caused by Plasmodium falciparum. Malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae causes milder disease in humans that is not generally fatal. A fifthspecies, Plasmodium knowlesi, is a zoonosis that causes malaria in macaques but can also infect humans.
Malaria transmission can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites by distribution of inexpensive mosquito nets and insect repellents, or by mosquito-control measures such as spraying insecticides inside houses and draining standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Although many are underdevelopment, the challenge of producing a widely available vaccine that provides a high level of protection for a sustained period is still to be met.
A variety of antimalarial medication are available. In the last 5 years, treatment of P. falciparum infections in endemic countries has been transformed by the use of combinations of drugs containing an artemisinin derivative. Severe malaria istreated with intravenous or intramuscular quinine or, increasingly, the artemisinin derivative artesunate. Several drugs are also available to prevent malaria in travellers to malaria-endemic countries (prophylaxis). Resistance has developed to several antimalarial drugs, most notably chloroquine.
Each year, there are more than 250 million cases of malaria, killing between one and threemillion people, the majority of whom are young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Ninety percent of malaria-related deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is commonly associated with poverty, and can indeed be a cause of poverty and a major hindrance to economic development.
Signs and symptoms
Main symptoms of malaria.
Typical fever patterns of malaria
Symptoms of malariainclude fever, shivering, arthralgia (joint pain), vomiting, anemia (caused by hemolysis), hemoglobinuria, retinal damage, and convulsions. The classic symptom of malaria is cyclical occurrence of sudden coldness followed by rigor and then fever and sweating lasting four to six hours, occurring every two days in P. vivax and P. ovale infections, while every three days for P. malariae. P.falciparum can have recurrent fever every 36–48 hours or a less pronounced and almost continuous fever. For reasons that are poorly understood, but that may be related to high intracranial pressure, children with malaria frequently exhibit abnormal posturing, a sign indicating severe brain damage. Malaria has been found to cause cognitive impairments, especially in children. It causes widespreadanemia during a period of rapid brain development and also direct brain damage. This neurologic damage results from cerebral malaria to which children are more vulnerable. Cerebral malaria is associated with retinal whitening, which may be a useful clinical sign in distinguishing malaria from other causes of fever.
Severe malaria is almost exclusively caused by P. falciparuminfection, and usually arises 6–14 days after infection. Consequences of severe malaria include coma and death if untreated—young children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable. Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen), severe headache, cerebral ischemia, hepatomegaly (enlarged liver), hypoglycemia, and hemoglobinuria with renal failure may occur. Renal failure is a feature of blackwater fever, where...
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