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What is malaria?

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The disease is always serious and sometimes fatal. However, it can be easily prevented.

How is malaria transmitted?

Malaria is transmitted through the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. The mosquito must have been infected through the blood of a sick person or animal before they can transmit the disease to another human or animal. The parasites mix with the mosquito’s saliva, which is passed to a person when the mosquito feeds. Since the parasite is found in red blood cells, malaria can also spread through blood transfusions or organ transplants.

Malaria is not contagious, and it can not be spread through sexual contact.

Who is at risk for malaria?

Anybody can get malaria, but some people are at higher risk. These people include:

  • People who live in countries with high malaria rates
  • People who travel to countries with high malaria rates
  • Infected pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People in rural areas with no access to healthcare
  • Young children
  • People who live in countries south of the Sahara desert

Where is malaria most common?

In many developed countries, malaria has been eliminated. Therefore, it is most common in undeveloped countries with poor healthcare. Malaria is most common in tropical and subtropical areas, where the weather is humid and warm, and where Anopheles mosquitoes can breed. The highest rates are found in:

  • Africa south of the Sahara desert
  • Parts of Oceania

What are the symptoms of malaria?

Symptoms are normally felt between ten days and four weeks, although they can be felt as early as one week and as late as one year. If left untreated, malaria can lead to kidney failure, seizures, mental confusion, coma, and death. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Flu-like illness
  • Shaking/chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice

How is malaria diagnosed?

If you believe you have malaria or it is possible that you have malaria, a doctor should take a blood test immediately. The doctor will look for parasites in the blood to properly diagnose malaria.

How is malaria treated?

Malaria should be treated as soon as possible to increase the chance of a full recovery. Treatments include antimalarial drugs. The type of drug will depend on your age, when you became sick, if you are pregnant, and how sick you were when you visited the hospital.

Is malaria more of a risk if you are pregnant?

Yes, malaria is more dangerous for pregnant women, because of weakened immune systems and the risk of passing malaria on to the baby. Women should avoid traveling to countries where malaria is present whenever possible. Antimalarial medications will not protect the baby. Additionally, it is unknown if antimalarial medications are safe for babies, so it is best to avoid coming into contact with malaria whenever possible.

Are antimalarial medications safe for children?

Some antimalarial medications are safe for children to use. The dose is based on the weight of the child. Talk to your doctor before traveling with a child to a country where malaria is common.

How can malaria be prevented?

Even people born in areas where malaria is common are at risk for contracting malaria. Talk to your doctor if you believe you have malaria. Also see your doctor before traveling to an area where malaria is common.

For travelers:

  • Get antimalarial medications. Visit your doctor 4-6 weeks before you leave on your trip to find the best medication for you.
  • Avoid mosquitoes whenever possible
  • Use mosquito repellent
  • Use a mosquito net while sleeping at night

For more information on malaria and preventative measures, visit https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/index.html.

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