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Everything You Should Know About Malaria: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Testing

malaria symptoms, treatment, testing and prevention

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted through infected mosquitoes. Tropical and subtropical climates are where Malaria tends to spread the most. Such weather allows transmission between infected mosquitoes and people all year round. Due to many cases occurring in Africa, Malaria symptoms are commonly recognized, this can be both a good and bad thing. While it may prompt people to take medical action, they can also skip out on testing and go straight to treatment.

The World Health Organization estimated that in 2020, 241 million cases of malaria occurred, and 627,000 people died of malaria, most of them children in Africa.

Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease, unfortunately, in many places, it is experienced as a deadly illness. It has affected the health and livelihood of many people and their communities. There needs to be a focus on prevention, diagnosis, and prompt treatment. 

What causes Malaria?

Many people know that Malaria is brought on by mosquitoes. The sickness is actually caused by a parasite that infects a certain type of mosquito which then goes on to transmit it to people through bites. There are different kinds of parasites that humans can be infected with;

Plasmodium falciparum (can cause severe infection and if not treated can lead to death)

  • P. vivax
  • P. ovale
  • P. malariae
  • P. knowlesi

How is Malaria Transmitted?

When any type of mosquito bites you, its special mouthpart (proboscis) punctures your skin. During this process, the mosquito sucks up blood while at the same time injecting its saliva into your skin. Your body then reacts to the saliva leading to the bump and itching.

Malaria can only be transmitted through female Anopheles mosquitoes through the following process;

  • A mosquito is infected by biting and collecting blood from a person that is already infected with malaria parasites.
  • The next time the mosquito bites someone, the malaria parasites are injected into the new person through its saliva.

Malaria parasites are found in a person’s red blood cells, this means that the sickness can also be transmitted through organ transplant, blood transfusion, or shared needles that contain malaria parasite-infected blood (such instances are rare but possible). Congenital malaria is the transmission of Malaria from mother to child before or during delivery.

Malaria can be transmitted but it is not contagious. You cannot get it by simply sitting next to someone or the way you would get a cold or flu from someone. It cannot be transmitted sexually.

Malaria Prevention

People bitten by mosquitoes infected by the plasmodium falciparum parasite are more likely to get severely sick or die from Malaria. This includes those with little immunity like pregnant women, young children, and those traveling from areas without Malaria.

Malaria can be prevented in different ways. Either by taking anti-malarial medication or reducing your exposure to mosquitoes by doing any of the following;

  • Spray the rooms in the houses with insecticide to kill mosquitoes and prevent bites.
  • Spray insecticide in bedrooms before going to bed.
  • Sleep under treated mosquito nets.
  • Use insect and mosquito repellant.
  • Put screens on windows or doors.

Malaria Symptoms

After a person is infected by a mosquito, for the majority of people, it can take 7 days to 4 weeks for symptoms to start. In rare instances, it can even take up to a year. Malaria symptoms are similar to fever symptoms which are normally a sign of an infection.

Malaria symptoms and signs include;

  • Fever and flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Chest pain – trouble breathing
  • Shaking chill
  • Sweats
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High body temperature

Severe Malaria Symptoms

Severe malaria can even lead to jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), and an enlargement of the liver or spleen. The more severe the Malaria, the more serious the symptoms.

  • Bleeding and clotting disturbances
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Respiratory distress – deep breathing
  • Anemia
  • Cerebral Malaria – neurological problems, abnormal behavior, coma, seizures, 
  • Convulsions
  • Kidney failure  

Malaria Testing and Diagnosis

Malaria needs to be treated promptly. Therefore, you will need to get a test as soon as you start experiencing symptoms. To diagnose malaria, your blood needs to be checked for malaria parasites. A malaria test with a blood test or finger prick will be able to indicate whether you have malaria or not.

You can get a Healthtracka Malaria Test Kit that allows you to test right at home. The package includes access to a doctor who can further assist you with the next steps and treatment options. You can get a single test or a family pack, the test kits are accurate, easy to use, and take only 15 minutes.

Order a Healthtracka Malaria test kit today.

It is a common practice to self-diagnose and then self-medicate. There are dangers and risks to that, symptoms may seem familiar but that does not always mean it is Malaria. Your fever may be rooted in another infection. 

Malaria Treatment

Once you have a malaria diagnosis, treatment should begin as soon as possible. Malaria is treated with medicine that kills the malaria parasite. There are more common drugs that are used in the treatment of malaria. In any case, before taking any malaria medication, do it with the guidance of a doctor or medical professionals. They are the best to advise on what specific malaria medication you will need to take.

Malaria and Pregnancy

Malaria Symptoms in Pregnant Women
Getty Images / Jamie Grill / JGI

Pregnant women need to take extra care to prevent getting malaria. In such circumstances, the symptoms tend to be more severe. Malaria infection during pregnancy can have adverse effects and cause serious health problems for both the mother and child. The health issues can include;

  • Anemia in the pregnant mother
  • Maternal death
  • Miscarriage
  • Congenital infections – transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding (e.g. TORCH)
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight 

Order a Healthtracka Malaria test kit

Malaria in pregnancy is treatable, a pregnant woman would need to get tested and follow the guidance of a doctor on their treatment options. Issues like types/severity of symptoms and what stage of pregnancy one is in will inform what the best treatment is.

Malaria in Babies and Children

Babies and children have a high risk of getting severe malaria. Extra care is required to prevent them from getting malaria. Get babies and children tested as soon as you notice what looks like malaria symptoms. Parents and guardians will also need medical advice on treatment and how to care for babies and children who have malaria. Symptoms can be slightly different or more subtle from what adults will experience. These can include;

  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Seizures
  • Coughing
  • Fast breathing
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Stomach pain

Malaria is a serious and widespread health issue in Nigeria. The fight against this sickness is still on. Prevention and treatment are what your focus should be on. Protect yourself and your loved ones from malaria.

Order a Healthtracka Malaria test kit today.

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