What is malaria?
Malaria is a potentially serious disease caused by Plasmodium parasites. Plasmodia are transmitted between humans by the bite of an Anopheles mosquito that carries the parasite.
Infectious Disease Spotlight
When Plasmodium parasites enter the human bloodstream, they travel to the liver and reproduce quickly. In most forms of malaria, some parasites also flow into the bloodstream and destroy red blood cells, which carry vital oxygen to the tissues of the body. This can result in anemia (a decreased number of red blood cells).
The parasites that stay in the liver continue to reproduce and periodically send more parasites into the bloodstream. This results in repeated attacks of flu-like symptoms each time new parasites are released into the blood. Attacks of malaria can recur for years if the disease is not diagnosed and treated. Eventually, the body’s immune system may develop a defense against the attacks, and they may become less severe in some people.
Malaria is most common in tropical and subtropical countries, where it is a serious public health threat. About half of the world’s population lives in areas at risk for malaria. Malaria is extremely rare in the United States, although the Anopheles mosquito is found in the western and southeastern part of the country. Mosquito control programs have essentially wiped out the disease in the United States. Most cases in the United States occur in people who have traveled outside the country to high-risk areas.
Malaria is a serious disease that can lead to complications, such as anemia and falciparum malaria, which is life threatening. Malaria is preventable with medications, so it is important to seek medical care before traveling to a subtropical or tropical area of the world where the disease is common.
What are the symptoms of malaria?
The signs and symptoms of malaria are the result of the reproduction of Plasmodium parasites in the liver and their spread into the bloodstream. In the blood, the parasites destroy the red blood cells, which carry vital oxygen to the tissues of the body. Some parasites stay in the liver and continue to multiply and periodically send more parasites into the bloodstream.... Read more about malaria symptoms
What causes malaria?
Malaria is caused by a tiny, microscopic parasite that belongs to the genus Plasmodium. P. vivax and P. falciparum are the two most common species that cause malaria. Plasmodium parasites are transmitted to humans by the bite of an Anopheles mosquito that is infected with the parasite. An Anopheles mosquito can only infect a person with malaria if it has already bitten a person with malaria.... Read more about malaria causes