Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by Plasmodium blood parasites. The disease is transmitted to people by the Anopheles mosquito. This disease is a leading cause of debilitating illness, with up to 300 million cases and 1 million deaths each year from around the world.
Any person living in or traveling to a country where malaria is prevalent is at risk for contracting the disease.
Malaria is currently transmitted in tropical or subtropical areas of Africa, some parts of Asia, and some parts of Central and South America, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.
Malaria is spread by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. With certain malaria species, dormant forms can be produced which may cause relapses of malaria months to years later. Malaria may also be transmitted by transfusion of blood from infected people or by the use of contaminated needles or syringes.
Symptoms include fever, chills sweats, and headache, and in some instances may progress to jaundice, blood coagulation defects, shock, kidney or liver failure, central nervous system disorders, and coma.
The time between the infective mosquito bite and the development of malaria symptoms can range from 9 to 30 days depending on the type of Plasmodia involved. One strain of Plasmodium, called Plasmodium vivax, may have a prolonged incubation period of 6 to 12 months. When infection occurs by blood transfusion, the incubation period depends on the number of parasites transferred but is usually less than two months.
Due to the changing pattern of drug-resistant strains, current recommendations can be obtained from the CDC; please see www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/drugs.html.
Since malaria is no longer transmitted within the United States, exposure to American citizens occurs most frequently during foreign travel to overseas tropical areas. It is very important to contact your physician to determine the proper preventive drug therapy while traveling. While in malaria zones use mosquito repellents and bed nets to prevent mosquito bites.
- CDC malaria website: www.cdc.gov/malaria/