Malaria is an infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites that belong to the Plasmodium family. The infection is mosquito borne and affects both humans as well as other animals.
The infection is spread when a female anopheles mosquito carrying this parasite bites a human being. When this happens, the Plasmodium parasite travels to the liver where it stays for a while and multiplies in number. The parasite then travels to the bloodstream to destroy the red blood cells and manifest physical symptoms of the infection.
Is Malaria a Preventable Disease?
Is this disease preventable? There are certain precautions that can be taken by travelers when they are traveling to a location with a high prevalence of this disease. However, currently there is no commercially available vaccine to prevent the infection in adults. There is just one approved vaccine for young children called the RTS,S which has a very low efficacy rate and further research is still being conducted on this vaccine.
There are certain precautions that can be taken to decrease the risk of getting the disease and these are called the ABCD principles of malaria protection.
The first principle is being aware of the risk of malaria, knowing the incubation periods of various malarial infections, considering the fact that there could be a delayed onset of the condition and being familiar with the nature of symptoms to watch out.
The second principle is to take steps to avoid being bitten by the malaria causing mosquitos at night. This could include best practices such as sleeping under nets that cover the entire bed, wearing clothes that cover most of the arms and legs, treating the bed nets and clothes with insecticides, wearing closed shoes and applying insect repellent to any exposed regions.
The third principle would be to start a course of antimalarial therapy to prevent the infection from developing into a full-blow disease. This is called chemo-prophylaxis and includes medication like chloroquine, doxycycline, mefloquine, or a combination of atovaquone/proguanil. Most of these medications are also used in acute treatment of the disease. These medicines need to be taken at least a week or two before the travel date to be effect at achieving prophylaxis against malarial infection. These also need to be continued for a certain period of time after returning from the travel location to be effective at preventing malaria. This is because the malarial parasite has been known to be dormant from a few weeks to a year in the infected individual’s liver and so medication is important to prevent a future bout of the infection.
The fourth principle is to consult a physician for diagnosis and treatment if the suspected malarial symptoms start manifesting within a week to a few months after the travel completion.
How Successful Is The Use Of Preventive Treatment For Malaria?
Despite the existence of preventive medication, general population still prefers to get acute treatment after the onset of the infection. This is true for many reasons. One reason is that the medications themselves are associated with some serious side effects when used long-term. Apart from that, malarial parasites like other pathogens are capable to forming drug resistant strains. Preventive medication is not encouraged in regions that are known to have a high prevalence of malaria carrying mosquitos. Most individuals who are afflicted with one strain of the parasite develop natural immunity against that strain. Therefore, it is preferable to treat an active infection in such disease prone areas. However, if a mosquito carrying a different strain of the parasite bites the individual, then the disease will not be prevented by the body’s natural immunity. In addition to the above reason, most of the malarial infections are found in the developing countries in populations with a very low-income bracket and so it is not always easy or feasible to afford costly medications for prevention of this disease.
Many efforts are underway by non-profit and government organizations to aid in the eradication of this severe life-threatening infection.