Malaria is caused by a parasite called plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells.
Usually, people get malaria when they are bitten by an infective female anopheles mosquito as only anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria having been infected through a previous blood meal taken on an infected person. When a mosquito bites an infected person, a small amount of blood is taken which contains microscopic malaria parasites.
About 1 week later, when the mosquito takes its next blood meal, these parasites mix with the mosquito’s saliva and are injected into the person being bitten. 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 which is known as “congenital” malaria”.
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 or yellow coloring of the skin and eyes due to the loss of red blood cells. Symptoms usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite.
If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs. Infection with one type of malaria, plasmodium falciparum, if not promptly treated, may cause kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death. In many parts of the world, the parasites have developed resistance to a number of malaria treatments.
Infection with malaria parasites may result in a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from absent or very mild symptoms to severe disease and even death. Malaria disease can be categorized as uncomplicated or severe. In general, malaria is a curable disease if diagnosed and treated promptly and correctly.
Following the infective bite by the anopheles mosquito, a period of time that is the “incubation period” goes by before the first symptoms appear.
Such long delays between exposure and development of symptoms can result in misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis because of reduced clinical suspicion by the health-care provider.
In countries where cases of malaria are infrequent, these symptoms may be attributed to influenza, a cold, or other common infections, especially if malaria is not suspected.
Conversely, in countries where malaria is frequent, residents often recognize the symptoms as malaria and treat themselves without seeking diagnostic confirmation
Diagnosis of malaria depends on the demonstration of parasites on a blood smear examined under a microscope. In p. Falciparum malaria, additional laboratory findings may include mild anemia, mild decrease in blood platelets, elevation of bilirubin, elevation of aminotransferases, albuminuria, and the presence of abnormal bodies in the urine.