Malaria is an acute febrile illness caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. Five types of Plasmodium parasite can infect humans. Two of these species – P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat. P. falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent. P. vivax is the dominant malaria parasite in most countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Once an infected mosquito bites a human, the parasites multiply in the host’s liver before infecting and destroying red blood cells. Within 48 to 72 hours, the parasites inside the red blood cells multiply, causing the infected cells to burst open.

The parasites continue to infect red blood cells, resulting in symptoms that occur in cycles that last two to three days at a time. People who have malaria usually feel very sick with a high fever and shaking chills. While the disease is uncommon in temperate climates, malaria is still common in tropical and subtropical countries. Each year nearly 290 million people are infected with malaria, and more than 400,000 people die of the disease.

Causes and Mode Of Transmission

Malaria is caused by plasmodium parasites, which are carried by anopheles mosquitoes. Only female mosquitoes spread the malaria parasites.  Malaria happens when a bite from the female Anopheles mosquito infects the body with Plasmodium.  The successful development of the parasite within the mosquito depends on several factors, the most important being humidity and ambient temperatures. When an infected mosquito bites a human host, the parasite enters the bloodstream and lays dormant within the liver whether they multiply. They invade your red blood cells, which carry oxygen. The parasites get inside them, lay their eggs, and multiply until the red blood cell bursts. This releases more parasites into your bloodstream. As they attack more of your healthy red blood cells, this infection can make you very sick.

Malaria is not contagious, meaning it can’t be transmitted from person to person via contact. However, it can be spread through:

  • An organ transplant
  • A transfusion
  • Use of shared needles or syringes
  • From a pregnant mother to their unborn baby


The signs and symptoms of malaria usually develop within 10 days to 4 weeks following the infection. In some cases, symptoms may not develop for several months. Some malarial parasites can enter the body but will be dormant for long periods of time.

Common signs and symptoms of malaria include:

  • Seizure
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • General feeling of discomfort
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cough
  • Convulsion
  • Bloody stool
  • Kidney failure

Talk to your doctor if you experience a fever while living in or after traveling to a high-risk malaria region. If you have severe symptoms, seek emergency medical attention.


Treatment aims to eliminate the Plasmodium parasite from the bloodstream. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) to treat uncomplicated malaria.

Artemisinin is derived from the plant Artemisia annua, better known as sweet wormwood. It rapidly reduces the concentration of Plasmodium parasites in the bloodstream.


There are several ways to keep malaria at bay. These are measure target against the vector and against the parasites.

Vector Control

Vector control is a vital component of malaria control and elimination strategies as it is highly effective in preventing infection and reducing disease transmission. Mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn. To protect yourself from mosquito bites, you should:

  • Cover your skin. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck in your shirt, and tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Apply insect repellent to skin. Use an insect repellent registered with the Environmental Protection Agency on any exposed skin. These include repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone. Do not use a spray directly on your face. Do not use products with OLE or PMD on children under age 3.
  • Apply repellent to clothing. Sprays containing permethrin are safe to apply to clothing.
  • Sleep under a net. Bed nets, particularly those treated with insecticides, such as permethrin, help prevent mosquito bites while you are sleeping.

Parasites Control

  1. Vaccination

Since October 2021, WHO also recommends broad use of the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine among children living in regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. The vaccine has been shown to significantly reduce malaria, and deadly severe malaria, among young children.

  1. Preventive chemotherapies

Preventive chemotherapy is the use of medicines, either alone or in combination, to prevent malaria infections and their consequences.  It includes chemoprophylaxis, intermittent preventive treatment of infants (IPTi) and pregnant women (IPTp), seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) and mass drug administration (MDA).

Malaria Complications

Some people are more likely to have serious health problems if they get malaria. These health problems can include:

  • Cerebral malaria. If parasite-filled blood cells block small blood vessels to your brain (cerebral malaria), swelling of your brain or brain damage may occur. Cerebral malaria may cause seizures and coma
  • Low blood sugar. Severe forms of malaria can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), as can quinine — a common medication used to combat malaria. Very low blood sugar can result in coma or death.
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Liver, kidney, and spleen failure
  • Anemia (when you lose too many red blood cells)
  • Very low blood sugar

See your health care provider if symptoms persist in treatment.

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