Definition: What Is Malaria?

Malaria is an infection of the red blood cells caused by Plasmodium protozoa (single celled parasites).

How Can a Person Contact Malaria?

Malaria is spread by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito, transfusion with contaminated blood, or an injection with a needle that was previously used by a person with the infection. It can also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn baby (congenitally). Four species of Plasmodium, P.vivax, P.falcipurum, P.ovale and P.malariae can cause malaria in humans. After the parasites are introduced into a humans body they migrate to the liver, a week later after maturation they are released into the bloodstream and infect the red blood cells. The then multiply inside the RBC's and infect more RBC's causing symptoms of malaria.


Malaria is a public health problem in more than 90 countries inhabited by a total of 2,400 million people-40% of the worlds population. More than 90% of all malaria cases are in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Symptoms usually begin 10-35 days after a mosquito injects parasite into a person. The symptoms include fever, shivering, pain in the joints, headache, nausea, generalized convulsions and coma. In falcipurum malaria, abnormal brain function may occur, a complication called cerebral malaria-with symptoms such as heaches,drosiness,delirium, and confusion. Cerebral malaria can be fatal. Anaemia and jaundice can be found as a result of destruction of RBC's and release of large amounts of free heamoglobin into the blood stream.


A blood sample is taken from a patient having symptoms of malaria. Identification of the parasite in the blood sample confirms the diagnosis of malaria.


Prevention of malaria encompasses a variety of measures that may prevent against infection or development of disease in infected individuals. The measures include protective clothing-especially after sundown to protect skin from mosquito bites repellants-these are applied on the exposed skin so as to prevent mosquito bites. Bednets-these are made to prevent mosquitoes from contact with skin of a sleeping person.

Chemoprophylaxisis-antimalarial drugs may be taken to prevent malaria-usually used by travellers to malaria endemic areas. The drugs are usually take a week before and are continued throughout the stay and up to 4-6 weeks after leaving the malaria area.

-Spraying insecticides into a screened room before retiring

NOTE: the drugs taken for prevention are not 100% effective

-Experimental vaccines are being evaluation in controlled clinical trials.


Treatment is usually by use of antimalarial drugs and depends on the type of malaria the person has and on whether the geographic area has strains of the parasite that are resistant to chloroquine.

Malaria CDC
Traveling to mosquito areas?
Malaria Overview
Malaria FAQs
Malaria Foundation Website
Malaria By WHO
Malaria Information Page - The Travel Doctor

Last Updated on Tuesday 18th January 2011