Contributed by- Dr. Snehal Singh
Another case of malaria in your neighbourhood? Worried about your own health? That’s obvious! Malaria is a dangerous disease and is surely on the rise. Malaria is predominant in areas with tropical and sub-tropical climates and is seen in various regions in India. According to World Health Organization, close to 1 in 7 people in India are at risk of contracting malaria.
The good news is that malaria is preventable and can be treated if suspected cases are reported in time. You can fight malaria, as the best malaria treatment is now available. Early medical help and timely diagnostic tests for malaria can ensure a healthy recovery.
But on the flip side, this easily preventable diseases that turns fatal in few cases, is resurgent. Climatic conditions in India help in the breeding of the mosquitoes. This combined with ignorance and in some cases, carelessness helps malaria to raise its ugly head every now and then. However, the battle against malaria can only be won when you are aware of the facts and take an active part in malaria prevention.
Is Malaria Contagious?
Malaria is a life-threatening disease, caused by Plasmodium parasite, which is transferred by a mosquito and to a healthy person. A simple malaria definition says that it is a disease in humans, caused by parasites in the red blood cells and is characterised by fever and chills.
People commonly ask, is malaria contagious? Truly speaking, it is not. Malaria does not spread by touching or sharing personal items of an infected person. It is not present in the saliva of the infected person and cannot spread when the person coughs or sneezes. It does not spread from person to person nor by casual contact or sexual interaction.
Malaria transmission to humans occurs only through mosquitoes. The malaria parasite enters the body of a female Anopheles mosquito when it bites a person infected with malaria. Hence, malaria is called a vector-borne disease, wherein the vector or the carrier is the mosquito. When the infected mosquito bites a healthy person, the malaria parasite, is transferred, thus infecting the person too.
Mosquitoes breed more in standing water. People living in marshy areas, near water bodies that are dumped with garbage and where water is allowed to stand are at greater risk.
What are the Causes of Malaria?
Apart from mosquito bite of female Anopheles mosquito, some of the other common causes of malaria include:
- The malaria parasite is present in the blood of an infected person. Hence, malaria transmission can also be seen during organ transplant and blood transfusion, called transfusion malaria.
- Malaria can also pass from an infected pregnant woman to her unborn baby before or during delivery. This is called congenital malaria.
- Another common mode of transmission of malaria is through needle stick injury. This is common in healthcare professional working with infected needles and blood samples.
- Spread of Malaria due to sharing of used needles and syringes contaminated with blood is also common in drug addicts.
Types of Malaria
Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasite, which appears in various forms. These organisms cannot survive outside, hence remain alive only in infected blood. The various types of malaria include:
- Plasmodium falciparum is the commonest and most lethal form of malaria. Early diagnosis and immediate treatment can help prevent complications in this case.
- Plasmodium vivax is the other commonest species, which too can seriously affect a person. As these species remain dormant in the liver, they are popular to cause malaria relapse. In a relapse, a person who has already suffered from malaria can get additional attacks, few months or years after the previous one.
- Plasmodium ovale, is a fairly rare type but does occur and this too has greater chances of malaria relapse.
- Plasmodium malariae, is seen only in a small number of infections.
- Another species called Plasmodium knowlesi may cause malaria in humans, but needs more research.
Symptoms and Complications due to Malaria
The symptoms of malaria may become visible about 7 to 30 days after the infective mosquito bite. The main symptoms of malaria include fever with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, body ache, sometimes seizures, especially in children, followed by profuse sweating and extreme fatigue.
Depending on the type of infection, fever may be seen in a periodic manner; some attacks appearing every second, while some on every third day. Jaundice or mild yellowish discolouration is seen on the skin and eyes. On examination, an enlarged spleen and liver may be noticed.
In severe cases, vital organs can get affected leading to serious complications. In cerebral malaria, neurological problems like altered behaviour, impaired consciousness and coma can be seen. Other problems like respiratory distress, low blood pressure, hypoglycaemia, severe anaemia, kidney failure, rupture of the spleen, etc. can occur in serious infections.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Malaria
People who are suspected to have malaria or those who have recently travelled to malaria prone areas may have to undergo blood tests for malaria. Additional investigations may be done to determine the type of infection, resistance to certain malaria drugs and vital organ involvement.
Malaria treatment includes the use of anti-malarial drugs. Hospitalization is considered in serious cases. Treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms and treating the cause of infection. If the infection is resistant to one drug, other anti-malarial drugs may be required.
Prevention of Malaria
Malaria can be prevented by adopting measures to limit mosquito breeding and avoiding mosquito bites.
- People living in high-risk areas are advised to spray mosquito repellents in the area or clean any standing water.
- Mosquito nets and repellent creams are widely used for individual protection from mosquito bites.
- While there are no vaccines to prevent malaria, certain prescribed medicines are given as prophylaxis. People travelling to malaria prone areas are advised to take these medicines. However, it is necessary to take these preventive medicines, only as advised to avoid developing resistance. Pregnant women must consult their doctor, regarding preventive treatment for malaria, as appropriate.
Preventing malaria is the need of the hour, so let’s begin now. Take every action to keep mosquitoes away. If you note symptoms of malaria, follow your doctor’s advice and get a malaria test right away.
Remember, timely action can save lives. Stay aware, stay healthy!
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