Friday April 3, 2015
Many people are aware of Malaria, however they may not know much about it and how it affects the body. This guide covers what you can expect if you contract the disease and the serious risks from doing so.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is a serious, preventable disease that can sometimes be fatal. It is caused by a single microscopic cell organism called a Plasmodium that invades red blood cells. There are four types of Plasmodium that can cause Malaria in humans. The most severe form is the P. falciparum Plasmodium, which is found in most tropical areas and is responsible for most Malaria deaths worldwide.
How is Malaria Contracted?
The female Anopheles mosquito carries and transmits the Malaria parasite to humans. Only pregnant mosquitoes bite humans as they require blood to nourish and feed their eggs. The Anopheles species is particularly active from dusk-dawn, therefore it is vital that you take necessary precautions to avoid being bitten, such as sleeping under a mosquito net. Malaria parasites enter your bloodstream when you are bitten by an infected mosquito. Transmission between humans can only occur through blood transfusions, the sharing of needles, or at birth from mother to child.
How Does Malaria Affect the Body?
Once bitten, the parasite enters the bloodstream and travels to the liver where the infection develops. The parasite multiplies fast, copying its DNA hundreds of times. A single infected liver cell can create thousands of new parasites. These parasites re-enter the bloodstream and invade the red blood cells. A parasite can lay dormant inside a red blood cell.
The parasite slowly devours the contents of the infected red blood cell and creates more parasites inside the cell. This cell becomes sticky gripping onto the blood vessel walls. Then the infected blood cells burst at regular intervals, releasing large numbers of free parasites into the blood. Every time they burst (every 48-72 hours), you will have symptoms of the disease. These symptoms commonly include a fever, flu-like illness, shaking chills, muscle aches, diarrhoea, vomiting and tiredness.
The free parasites go on to infect mosquitoes that feed on your blood during this phase (when the red blood cells multiply and burst). The parasites multiply inside the mosquito and migrate to its salivary glands, ready to be transmitted when a mosquito bites another human.
When Do Symptoms Appear?
Usually within 7-18 days after being infected, although sometimes it can take several months, or up to a year for symptoms to begin. The parasites can hibernate in your body and it is only when they infect your red blood cells that the illness appears. If you develop any of the above symptoms in the year after your travels, always make your doctor aware of your travels to a malaria-risk area.
If not diagnosed quickly and left untreated, complications of severe Malaria and death can occur. Particularly vulnerable groups are pregnant women, the elderly, babies and young children. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises pregnant women to avoid travelling to high risk malarial areas.
It is vital that at the first signs of the disease you get treatment. Serious complications can occur even within hours or days of initial symptoms.
These complications can include:
- Severe anaemia - the red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen to the body’s muscles and organs, leaving you weak and faint
- Cerebral Malaria – when Malaria affects the brain it can cause it to swell, leading to permanent brain damage, seizures or coma.
- Liver failure and jaundice
- Hypoglycaemia – abnormally low blood sugar
- Kidney failure
- A build-up of fluid in the lungs, otherwise known as pulmonary oedema
- Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) – inflammation of the lungs
- Shock, a sudden drop in blood pressure
Where is Malaria a Risk?
Malaria is found in over 100 countries worldwide, mainly in tropical regions. To find out if Malaria is a risk in the area you are planning to visit, take a look at our Your Trip Planner. An estimated 219 million cases occur each year, and every 60 seconds a child dies from Malaria.
Prevention is vital to stop yourself becoming a victim of this deadly disease. International travellers are among those at most risk of the disease as we lack immunity. Every year approximately 1,500 travellers are diagnosed with malaria in the UK. Since 2005, there has been between two to ten deaths each year from malaria.
Avoid mosquito bites by taking the following precautions:
- Use a high strength DEET insect repellent, covering any areas of exposed skin
- Wear light coloured, loose fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible
- At night, sleep under an insecticide-treated mosquito net
- At least six weeks before travel seek medical advice on what vaccinations and anti-malarial tablets should be taken
- Make sure you take the right anti-malarial tablets for your trip, at the right dose, and for the full duration of the course. Anti-malarial tablets are not 100% effective, so take other precautions as well.
- Use a fabric spray on your tent, backpack and interior fabrics.
Always get prompt medical treatment if you develop symptoms of Malaria even while taking anti-malarial tablets.
Finally some common myths to avoid falling into…..
Garlic, marmite, Vitamin B tablets, and ultrasound devices will not protect you from insect bites or prevent Malaria.