Understanding Malaria: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Understanding malaria is one of the surest ways to avoid it. Malaria is the number one killer disease in Africa. It is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted through mosquito bites, and this parasite spreads to humans who end up usually feeling very sick with a high fever and shaking chills.

Compared to temperate climates, malaria is often common in subtropical countries.

Annually more than 290 million people are infected with malaria while over 400,000 people die of the disease.  When it bites, the mosquito injects malaria parasites into your bloodstream and this is mainly infected by the female Anopheles mosquitoes. Majority of malaria cases occur in sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia.

Other parts of the world where malaria cases are on the rise are Central and South America, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Eastern Europe. Islands in the Central and South Pacific Ocean (Oceania) also record significant number of cases.

If left untreated malaria can also result in severe health problems such as seizures, brain damage, trouble breathing, organ failure and ultimately, death. The incubation period in most cases varies between 7 to 30 days before symptoms begin to show.

Who can be infected with malaria? Just anyone can get malaria with greater complications occurring in young children, the elderly and pregnant women who unfortunately have an increased risk of dying. For instance, more than 80% of malaria deaths in Africa alone in 2020 involved children under the age of 5 years old.


Causes of malaria

It is caused by a single-celled parasite (Plasmodium) which is found in the saliva of infected Anopheles mosquitoes and is transmitted to humans when the mosquito bites and feeds on human blood. Once inside the body, the parasite multiplies rapidly and can infect the liver, red blood cells, and other organs.

The malaria transmission mode

The mosquito transmission cycle involves a mosquito becoming infected by feeding on an infected person. Once infected, in future it can transmit malaria parasites to you. In the body, the parasites will travel to your liver, where they can lie dormant for almost a year. As they mature, the parasites leave the liver and infect your red blood cells and it is at this stage people begin developing malaria symptoms. Finally, when an uninfected mosquito bite you, it becomes infected and spreads it to other people.

Aside from infection from mosquito bites, people can also contract malaria from exposure to infected blood, including mother to unborn child situation, blood transfusions and needle sharing.

Symptoms of malaria

Malaria symptoms typically appear 10 to 15 days after the mosquito bite and can include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. In some cases, the disease can cause more severe symptoms such as anemia, kidney failure, seizures, and even coma or death. Symptoms can be mild or severe and may vary depending on the type of Plasmodium parasite causing the infection.

In jurisdictions where malaria is frequent, the residents often ordinarily identify the symptoms as malaria and treat themselves without seeking diagnostic confirmation which is termed presumptive treatment.

The obvious signs will include elevated temperatures, perspiration, weakness, enlarged spleen, mild jaundice, enlarged liver and increased respiratory rate.

According to health professionals, severe forms of the disease, may progress to a coma known as cerebral malaria, which often results in 15% and 20% of deaths in children and adults respectively.

It is widely known that residents of a malaria region may have been exposed to the malaria enough to acquire a partial immunity, which can lessen the severity of malaria symptoms. Nonetheless, this partial immunity can gradually disappear if you move to a place where you're no longer frequently exposed to the parasite.



Malaria is typically treated with antimalarial drugs, which can kill the Plasmodium parasite and ease symptoms. The specific treatment will depend on the type of Plasmodium parasite causing the infection and the severity of the symptoms.

In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary, particularly if the infection has caused severe complications or if the person has other underlying health conditions. Prevention measures, such as mosquito nets, insect repellents, and antimalarial medication, can also help reduce the risk of infection.


Malaria Vaccine in Ghana

The World Health Organization recommended a malaria vaccine for use in children who live in countries with high numbers of malaria cases. In April 2023, Ghana became the first country to approve a new malaria vaccine called R21, which appears to be hugely effective. The WHO is set to also approve the vaccine after assessing final trial data.

The country’s Food and Drugs Authority gave the approval for the vaccine to be use in children aged between five months to three years old. Additionally, the Serum Institute of India is preparing to produce between 100-200 million doses per year, and progress is being made to construct a vaccine factory in Accra, Ghana.

In conclusion, malaria remains the number killer disease across the African continent and if you are traveling to areas where malaria is common, it is important to take preventative measures and seek medical attention immediately if you experience any symptoms of the disease.










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