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.
How is this Infection Spread To Humans?
The female anopheles mosquito carries the malarial parasite and is called the carrier of the disease. The Plasmodium parasite has many different subspecies and each type causes different symptoms and requires different treatment. Once the carrier mosquito bites a human being, the parasite initially travels to the individual’s liver. Here the parasite multiplies and then it travels into the bloodstream to destroy the red blood cells.
What are the Different Types of Malarial Infection?
There are commonly four types of malarial parasites causing malarial infection in human beings. These include protozoan parasites Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale and P. malariae. There is an additional fifth type of parasite called P. knowlesi found in Southeast Asia that normally infects macaques, but sometimes also humans and leads to malaria being passed from animals to humans (zoonotic malaria).
Plasmodium vivax is one of the most commonly seen types of malaria and is responsible for about 60% of worldwide malarial infections (most notably in Asia and Latin America). This type of malaria is rarely life threatening, but left untreated, it can cause serious health problems. The most common symptoms of this infection are diarrhea, episodes of fever and chills and general fatigue.
Plasmodium falciparum is the most common type of infection seen globally. It is also the most lethal one known to accountable for the most deaths related to malaria. It is typically accountable for infections in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
Plasmodium malariae is third in prevalence rate compared to P. vivax and P. falciparum. It is known to be responsible for less than 1% of the infections in the Indian sub-continent. It is not lethal and usually manifests as high fever or chills in the patient.
Plasmodium ovale is one of the rarest types of malaria. It is usually seen in geographies like Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and West Africa. This type of infection is associated with frequent bouts of recurrence because the parasite can stay dormant in a person’s liver from a few months to about 4 years. It is typically accountable for infections in Africa and pacific islands.
Plasmodium knowlesi is an equally rare type of malaria. It is mainly found in the Southeast Asia. The infection is not known to be lethal, but it is associated with rapid worsening of the severity of the infection.
What is the Incubation Period for the Malarial Infection?
Typically, it takes between 7 to 30 days after a mosquito bite, before the malarial symptoms start to occur. P. falciparum has been known to have a short incubation period of 10 to 14 days while P. vivax and other species are known to have longer incubation periods that can last up to a year.
What are the Symptoms of Malaria?
Malarial infections are classified as either uncomplicated or complicated cases. In most uncomplicated cases, the patients complain of experiencing bouts of fever and shivering followed by bouts of fatigue and sweating. In complicated cases, usually the parasite has caused a complication called cerebral malaria where the patient experiences attack of fits, mental confusion, and loss of consciousness and displays generally odd behavior.
How Do You Tell If You Have Malaria?
Your physician shall make the diagnosis by inquiring about your general physical symptoms, taking your travel history over the last 6 months and by inquiring if, there have been outbreaks of this disease in your locality. Once the doctor has these details and your physical examination is indicative of a malarial infection, he shall send your blood sample to the lab for confirmation of the parasite’s presence in your blood. It takes usually a day or so to get back the results from the lab. With the right diagnosis and treatment, recovery is quick and prognosis is favorable.
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