Which are malaria hosts and how does malaria have an effect on one of them?
The parasite which causes malaria (called Plasmodium) requires two different hosts—a vertebrate intermediate host, such as a human, and an insect definitive host, also known as the vector. For the types of malaria which infect humans and other mammals, the vector is always a mosquito of the genus Anopheles.
However, there are other types of malaria which infect birds and reptiles, and these can use other genera of mosquito as their vectors, and some parasites closely related to Plasmodium can even use sandflies and other types of insects as their vectors too.
In humans, malaria usually causes disease, characterized by high fever, chills, aches and nausea. However, the presentation of symptoms and their severity depends on a number of factors, such as the type of Plasmodium (P. falciparum is the most dangerous to humans), the immune status of the host and the infective dose received from the vector.
Many mammals are also susceptible to malaria, such as macaque monkeys, and with them as well the effect of the parasite depends on a number of factors. For example, for macaques in south-east Asia, many will be co-infected with several different types of malaria simultaneously, though none appear to cause disease. However, if macaques from other parts of tje world, such as the Himalayas, are experimentally infected with these same types of malaria, they will get sick and possibly even die. As such, evolutionary history also plays a part in terms of how severe malaria will be in a particular host.
For the insect vector, infection with malaria parasites does not appear to have a strong deleterious effect, though some studies have shown reduced survival in mosquitoes infected with malaria. Also, changes in behavior have been observed. For example, some studies have shown that mosquitoes which are infected with malaria are more likely to continue seeking for food (i.e. through biting a host) even if they have recently fed than mosquitoes which are uninfected, or infected with non-transmissable life stages of malaria. This suggests that in some way the malaria parasite is manipulating the vector’s behavior in order to increase its own chances of being passed on to a new host.