How does malaria spread?
Malaria is a vector-borne disease; this means that it has to be spread through a “vector” species, which in this case are female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. The female mosquito needs to feed on blood in order to produce eggs; most species lay eggs every 2-3 days, which means each female mosquito needs to take very regular blood meals.
Around 20 species of Anopheles mosquito have been implicated in the transmission of malaria; some species are better than others at acting as a vector. The most important group in Africa is the Anopheles gambiae complex; these mosquitoes are also relatively long-lived, which is important for transmission since it means that whole portions of the malaria parasite’s life cycle can be completed inside the vector mosquito.
When the female mosquito takes a blood meal, she inserts her slender mouth part (called a ‘proboscis’) into a tiny cut she makes uses specialized slicing parts of her mouth. She probes until she finds a small surface blood vessel, from which she feeds. The proboscis contains two narrow tubes – one delivers her own saliva into the wound (containing chemicals to stop the blood coagulating as well as a slight pain-killer, to stop you feeling the bite) while the other sucks up blood.
The mosquito’s saliva also contains the malaria parasite; this is how the parasite is delivered into the human body. Similarly, the parasite passes back into the mosquito through the blood she ingests, once the human portion of the life cycle has been completed. As mosquitoes pass between human to human, and indeed also between other animals, they spread the malaria parasite through the delivery of saliva and the uptake of blood.