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Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasites which enter the body through a mosquito bite. They enter the blood and can be found in the liver as well as in red blood cells. Malarial disease occurs in large parts of Africa, Asia and South America. It can be a mild infection, but may also have life-threatening consequences. There are different types of medication which offer protection against a mosquito sting.

Medically reviewed by G.L. Merkens on December 17, 2018


  • Information

    What is malaria?

    Malaria is an infection caused by the Plasmodium parasite. These can enter the body through a mosquito bite. There are different types of Plasmodium parasite which can cause malaria to develop:

    • Plasmodium falciparum
    • Plasmodium vivax
    • Plasmodium oval
    • Plasmodium malariae

    Malaria causes fever, headache, muscle pain and chills as if it were a common flu. The first malaria symptoms occur on average 10-14 days after being stung by an infected mosquito.

    The parasites of P. vivax and P. ovale undergo a phase during which the parasites remain 'asleep' in the liver. As a result, it can sometimes take months, even years, before these parasites become active and cause symptoms.

    Malaria is more common than is generally thought. So, before your departure, check whether your destination country is a malaria zone. There is no malaria vaccine available yet, so you should always take malaria pills and employ appropriate mosquito-repellent precautions.

    What are the symptoms of malaria?

    Malaria features or symptoms are caused by parasites which multiply in the blood. Early malaria symptoms are very similar to a bout of flu. So it’s important to remain alert, if during or after a holiday in the (sub)tropical regions you suffer anything which feels like flu, and watch out for the following symptoms:

    • Cold shivers
    • High fever
    • Muscle pain/ joint pain
    • Headache
    • Copious sweating
    • Confusion
    • Fatigue
    • Diarrhoea
    • Nausea/ vomiting
    • Convulsions (in children)

    Malaria has several variants, but malaria tropica is the most dangerous form and can prove fatal within 48 hours. But with the other three variants, the course of the disease is usually less severe.

    The malaria symptoms listed above recur every few days, often in attacks lasting from four to eight hours. In addition, malaria can cause anaemia due to the loss of many red blood cells, and the spleen can also become enlarged.

    What are possible causes?

    Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite. These parasites are transmitted by the Anopheles mosquitoes. These mosquitoes become infected by contact with those who already have malaria. If they then sting another victim, that person will also become infected.

    As well as mosquito-borne infection, there is also a chance you could become infected from:

    • Blood transfusions using infected blood
    • Infected needles
    • Wounds caused by injection needles
    • Pregnancy: from mother to child
    • Organ transplants

    How is the disease diagnosed?

    If malaria is suspected, blood is tested immediately. It is not wise to wait until a fever peaks because malaria can have a fatal outcome and any delay in testing could be crucial.

    If a malaria test proves negative, despite a strong clinical suspicion, it is recommended to repeat the test every 8 to 12 hours. This pattern should be continued for 48-72 hours.

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