The name Malaria is derived from the Italian word Mal’aria which means “bad air”.
Malaria was first discovered to be a parasitic disease on 6 November 1880 by Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran, a French army surgeon stationed in Constantine, Algeria. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907 for his discovery.
Malaria still exists today and the disease if diagnosed early on can be controlled and treated. In some areas of the world however the disease causes countless deaths due to the lack of knowledge by the general populace and the lack of medical facilities.
In SADC countries, 6 November is known as Malaria Awareness Day and seeing that 3 of South Africa's 9 provinces are marked as risk areas it is paramount that all South Africans are educated regarding Malaria.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is a parasitic infectious disease from the Plasmodium family transmitted by the bite from an infected female mosquito which is primarily found in subtropical & tropical regions.
How is it Transmitted?
The Plasmodium parasite enters the bloodstream of the person through the mosquito’s saliva and lays dormant within the liver. For 5 – 16 days no symptoms are experienced.
There are four parasite species that cause malaria in humans:
· Plasmodium falciparum
· Plasmodium vivax
· Plasmodium malariae
· Plasmodium ovale.
Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are the most common. Plasmodium falciparum is the most deadly.
Signs & Symptoms to look out for after visiting a Malaria Area
· Fever & chills
· Body aches and general weakness
· Nausea and vomiting
Malaria is usually more severe in pregnant women, babies, young children and older people.
The falciparum parasite causes the most severe malaria symptoms and the most deaths.
Complicated or Severe Malaria Symptoms
· Severe Anaemia (due to destruction of red blood cells)
· Kidney Failure
· Cardiovascular collapse
· Breathing problems (such as fluid in your lungs)
· Liver failure and jaundice (a yellow discolouration of the skin)
· Abnormally low blood sugar
· Swelling and rupturing of the spleen
How is Malaria Diagnosed?
Early detection is critical; any person who has travelled to a malaria area or showing signs of malaria should be tested immediately. Always inform your doctor when you have travelled to a malaria area or had brief stopovers in a malaria risk area.
Rapid diagnostic tests (antigen tests) are available that can give the diagnosis in a few minutes. It is recommended that a positive test is followed with a blood smear examination as malaria is confirmed by means of identifying the parasites microscopically in the blood sample.
The doctor will decide on the appropriate course of medication to treat malaria.
The choice will depend on several factors, including:
· the specific species of parasite identified,
· the severity of symptoms,
· determination of drug resistance based on the geographic area where the patient travelled.
The doctor will administer the medication in pill form or as an intravenous antibiotic depending on above factors.
Medications most commonly used are:
· Chloroquine (Aralen),
· Doxycycline (Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, Atridox),
· Quinine (Qualaquin),
· Mefloquin (Lariam),
· Atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone),
If left untreated, malaria can be fatal.
· Remain indoors from dusk to dawn
· Sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets
· Screen windows and doors in endemic areas
· Clothing: Clothing that covers most of the exposed skin
· Apply insect repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) to all exposed skin
· Antimalarial medicines can also be used to prevent malaria when travelling to malaria areas
The malaria season in South Africa extends from September to May.
The Malaria Risk Areas in South Africa include :
· KwaZulu Natal
Unfortunately Malaria has not yet been cured and a vaccine for humans still needs to be discovered however, a new study has found how malaria parasites survive in the bloodstream by identifying a key protein, called protein kinases, which if targeted, can stop the disease.
In the interim the World Health Organisation (WHO) has set out to reduce all malaria cases and deaths by 2030 by 90%. Globally between the years 2000 – 2013 Malaria incidence rates are estimated to have fallen by 30% and the estimated mortality rates by 47%.
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Blumberg L. H., (2015), Recommendations for the treatment and prevention of malaria: Update for 2015 season in South Africa. South African Medical Journal Vol.105, No.3, March 2015, pages 175 – 178
Lam P. , (2015), Malaria: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/150670.php
Balentine J.R. , Malaria, www.medicinenet.com
World Health Organisation, Malaria Fact Sheet No94, www.who.int/topics/malaria/en
The South African Travel Health Network, Malaria Advice for Travellers, www.santhnet.co.za
The Centre for Disease Control, The History of Malaria, an Ancient Disease, www.cdc.gov