What are the symptoms and causes of malaria?
Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells. Usually, people get malaria by being bitten by an infective female Anopheles mosquito. Only Anopheles mosquitoes can transmit malaria and they must have been infected through a previous blood meal taken on an infected person. When a mosquito bites an infected person, a small amount of blood is taken in which contains microscopic malaria parasites. About 1 week later, when the mosquito takes its next blood meal, these parasites mix with the mosquito’s saliva and are injected into the person being bitten.
Because the malaria parasite is found in red blood cells of an infected person, malaria can also be transmitted through blood transfusion, organ transplant, or the shared use of needles or syringes contaminated with blood. Malaria may also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn infant before or during delivery (“congenital” malaria).
There are five kinds of malaria known to infect humans: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae and P. knowlesi. The symptoms of malaria differ depending on the type of malaria; P. falciparum is the most deadly and severe form of the disease. General symptoms of malaria include include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Malaria may cause anemia and jaundice (yellow coloring of the skin and eyes) because of the loss of red blood cells.
Symptoms usually appear between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs.