What is malaria and the preventive measures?
Malaria is a disease caused by single-celled parasites of the genus Plasmodium. There are currently five species which cause disease in humans, and while each is slightly different, they all act in basically the same way, and cause similar symptoms. Of the five, the most dangerous is Plasmodium falciparum, which can lead to death in a matter of days if not treated promptly.
In terms of prevention, the same basic methods are used to prevent all types of malaria. These can be placed into two categories: medication and vector protection.
For medication, there are drugs you can take to prevent the malaria parasite from developing after someone is bitten by an infected mosquito. These drugs are known as “chemoprophylaxis.”
There are several different kinds, such as doxycycline, mefloquine (marketed as Lariam), atovaquone-proguanil (marketed as Malarone) and chloroquine—the type you use depends on the type of malaria present in the area. For example, in much of Africa and India, malaria is resistant to chloroquine, so this cannot be used as a prophylactic. In parts of Thailand, resistance to mefloquine has emerged. However, if the appropriate type of prophylaxis is used, it is very effective against malaria.
The problem is that these drugs have not been tested for long-term use, can be expensive and may have side-effects. Therefore they are of limited use for people who live in areas where malaria is endemic, and are more appropriate for travelers who are in malarial areas for short amounts of time. However, anti-malarial medication may be used in a very specific way for people at particularly high-risk for malaria, such as pregnant women and young children. In these cases, the high-risk individuals receive a dose or series of doses of malaria medication in order to prevent malaria. This form of prevention is known as intermittent preventive therapy (IPT).
Vector prevention involves protecting oneself against getting bitten by mosquitoes. This can involve wearing long-sleeved clothing in the evenings and at night, when malaria mosquitoes are most active, or wearing insect repellent on exposed skin. Indoor residual spraying, whereby repellent and insecticides are sprayed inside the house, can also be used to bring down the number of mosquitoes.
Another very effective technique for preventing malaria is to sleep under a long-lasting insecticide-treated bednet. The mesh acts as a barrier against the mosquitoes, and the insecticide impregnated in the mesh further repels the mosquitoes and prevents them from biting through the mesh.