Important facts about malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite. The disease is both preventable and curable, but without quick medical attention and treatment it can be fatal.
People who have little or no immunity to malaria, such as young children and pregnant women or travellers coming from areas with no malaria, are more likely to become very sick and die. Poor people living in rural areas who lack access to health care are at greater risk for this disease.
Although a large proportion of cases happen in sub-Saharan Africa, the disease is found in many countries across the globe, with poorer areas being the worst affected. In South Africa malaria is found in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the north-eastern part of KwaZulu-Natal. The peak period is between September and May.
How is malaria transmitted?
Usually, people get malaria by being bitten by an infective female Anopheles mosquito. Only Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria and they must have been infected through a previous blood meal taken from an infected person.
Because the malaria parasite is found in red blood cells of an infected person, malaria can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, organ transplant, or the shared use of needles or syringes contaminated with blood. Malaria may also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn infant before or during delivery (“congenital” malaria).
Malaria is not spread from person to person like a cold or the flu, and it cannot be sexually transmitted. You cannot get malaria from casual contact with malaria-infected people, such as sitting next to someone who has malaria.
Signs and symptoms of malaria
For most people, symptoms begin 10 days to 4 weeks after infection, although a person may feel ill as early as 7 days or as late as 1 year later.
Symptoms of malaria include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Malaria may cause anemia and jaundice (yellow colouring of the skin and eyes) because of the loss of red blood cells. If not promptly treated, the infection can become severe and may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death.
The surest way for you and your health-care provider to know whether you have malaria is to have a diagnostic test where a drop of your blood is examined under the microscope for the presence of malaria parasites.
The disease should be treated early in its course, before it becomes serious and life-threatening. Several good antimalarial drugs are available, and should be taken early on. The most important step is to go see a doctor if you are sick and are presently in, or have recently been in, an area with malaria, so that the disease is diagnosed and treated right away.
Malaria can be cured with prescription medication. The type of medication and length of treatment depend on the type of malaria, where the person was infected, their age, whether they are pregnant, and how sick they are at the start of treatment.
How to stay safe:
- Always get professional medical advice before travelling to a country affected by malaria.
- Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt if you are outside at night.
- Use mosquito repellent at night, especially before you go to sleep.
- Close the windows at night and spray the room with special bug spray.
- Sleep under a mosquito net that has been treated with mosquito repellent.
- If you experience any of the symptoms associated with malaria -such as chills, a high fever, or headaches – while you are in or have recently visited an area affected by malaria, seek medical attention immediately.
Disclaimer: All content on the The Local Choice Pharmacy is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health advice.