Malaria is a parasitic disease caused by a microorganism called Plasmodium. Worldwide this disease affects hundreds of millions of people in over 90 countries. In Pakistan, a country with a population of over 180 million, nearly 2% suffers from malaria and are at risk if infection. Understanding malaria is essential to avoid infection and treat the sick. In this article we’ll present some of the most important basic facts about this disease.
How Does it Work?
Plasmodium travels through the human bloodstream and infects red blood cells where it multiplies. When the number of parasites inside the red cell is too great it breaks releasing new parasites into the bloodstream.
The remaining fragments of red blood cells are rich in haemoglobin (an important protein for oxygen transport). This protein in its free state eventually promotes the characteristic fever this disease is known for.
How Does it Spread?
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes, specifically Anopheles cuilcifacies, Anopheles Stephensi and Anopheles fluvialis. These insects are known as “vectors” for malaria. This means that they are infected with Plasmodium and are capable to infect healthy humans when they feed of their blood, also non-infected mosquitoes become infected when they feed from the blood of humans with malaria.
In Pakistan and most of the world, the best way to control how malaria spreads is to reduce the vector population with pesticides and awareness campaigns, however, Pakistan faces a problem of pesticide-resistant mosquitoes that make this effort extremely difficult.
The most common appear after 10 to 15 days after the initial bite and include:
In severe cases (usually in children) is also common to observe:
Metabolic acidosis and an associated respiratory problems
Cerebral malaria (strong risk of brain injury)
Who is at Risk?
All people are vulnerable, however, some groups are at greater risk than others. Those immuno-compromised, the elderly, lactating infants, young children and pregnant women may develop more intense symptoms.
Avoid mosquito bites by covering your skin, using mosquito nets and applying insect repellent on exposed areas.
Determine how at risk you are by knowing if there are any mosquitoes breeding sites (stagnant water) or infected people around you.
Note: Anti-malarial medications can be dangerous, please consult an authorized physician before using them.
There is medication available to treat malaria, however is known to have strong side effects and even be dangerous in some cases. Some of them include:
Pakistan also has a drug-resistance problem caused by frequent and irresponsible use of anti-malarial medication. This created a situation where most cases of Plasmodium infection cannot be treated with usual methods.
Treatment for malaria is not simple and should always be supervised by a health professional.