It is well known that mosquitoes carry diseases. It is common knowledge that malaria is among the most deadly diseases in the world. Even in developed nations like the U.S., there are yearly warnings of West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, but no disease carried by mosquitoes is as widespread as malaria. The following 10 facts about malaria shed some light on the global malaria epidemic, what is being done about it and what the future holds.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.
- The word “malaria” means “bad air.”
In the 18th century people thought that malaria was caused from breathing in bad air in marshy areas. In 1880 scientists discovered that this was not true, but the name stuck.
- Malaria is spread by parasites.
Five different parasites can cause malaria in humans, but the Plasmodium falciparum parasite is the most deadly. The parasites enter the human bloodstream through the bite of an infected mosquito.
- Malaria is most commonly found in Africa and parts of Southeast Asia.
Mosquitoes thrive in tropical and subtropical climates, so countries that are near the equator are more at risk. Additionally, many African and Southeast Asian countries have high poverty rates and people do not have access to malaria prevention and treatment, or are not educated on the disease.
- Malaria can pass from human to human.
You cannot “catch” malaria like you can a cold, but people can pass it on by sharing needles, blood transfusions and through pregnancy.
- When infected with malaria, symptoms can range from none to severe.
It can take anywhere from 9-40 days for symptoms to appear. Early symptoms can include fever, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, chills, headache, muscle aches, cough and sweating. If not treated within 24 hours the disease can worsen, leading to seizures, impairment of brain and spinal cord function, loss of consciousness and death.
- Malaria infects an average of 200 million people each year.
Up to 1 million of these 200 million will die every year. Of malaria deaths, 90 percent occur in Africa. In Africa one child dies from malaria every minute.
- There is a cure for malaria.
There are different drug treatments available depending on the strain of malaria an individual is infected with. The drugs cure malaria by killing all of the parasites within a person’s bloodstream. However, new waves of drug-resistant malaria are threatening the lives of millions.
- The best cure for malaria is prevention.
There are two major ways that malaria is prevented. Insecticide-treated mosquito netting placed around beds is a good way to keep people safe while they sleep, and spraying a household with residual insecticide will effectively eliminate mosquitos in the house for three to six months.
- Mortality rates are falling.
Since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen by 42 percent globally. This is largely due to increased prevention and faster testing and treatment to those who are thought to have malaria. By 2015, 52 countries are expected to have reduced their number of malaria cases by 75 percent. In the past four years the countries of Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Turkmenistan and Armenia have been certified by the World Health Organization as having eliminated malaria.
- There is a promising vaccine currently being tested.
While there is currently no vaccine on the market to prevent against malaria, there is one being tested via clinical trial in seven African countries with positive results. Scientists feel very encouraged by this new treatment and the vaccine could be ready for full-time use as early as 2015.
Malaria is caused by a one-celled parasite called a Plasmodium. Female Anopheles mosquitoes pick up the parasite from infected people when they bite to obtain blood needed to nurture their eggs. Inside the mosquito the parasites develop and reproduce. When the mosquito bites again, the parasites mix with its saliva and pass into the blood of the person being bitten.
Malaria parasites multiply rapidly in the liver and then in red blood cells of the infected person. One to two weeks after a person is infected the first symptoms of malaria appear: usually fever, headache, chills and vomiting. If not treated promptly with effective medicines, malaria can kill by infecting and destroying red blood cells and by clogging the capillaries that carry blood to the brain or other vital organs.
There are four types of human malaria: Plasmodium vivax, P. malariae, P. ovale and P. falciparum. P. vivax and P. falciparum are the most common forms. Falciparum malaria—the most deadly type—is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, where it causes nearly a million deaths a year.
Drinking beer could increase your chances of infection
Mosquitoes love the smell of beer, according to scientists at the University of Emory. Knocking back a can or two causes your body to produce an odour that is irresistible to the malaria-carrying insects, the 2010 study found. So if you are travelling in a malaria-infected area, steer clear of the beer.
It can take up to four years to develop malaria symptoms
Rarer strains of the disease lie dormant, meaning it can take months or even years before you get ill. In exceptionally rare cases malaria sufferers have fallen ill four years after being infected.
Only female mosquitoes transmit malaria
Whereas the male of the species are timid and stick to plants, female mosquitoes love to suck blood, rendering them a deadly vehicle for the disease.
Thousands die every year from taking fake anti-malaria drugs
The World Health Organisation has estimated that around 20 per cent of the one million deaths caused by malaria annually can be blamed on counterfeit drugs. Smithsonian Magazine recently exposed a Cambodian crime ring for selling malaria “medicines” to pharmacies that turned out to be bags of flour.
Mosquitoes carrying malaria behave like vampires
Just like Count Dracula, female mosquitoes rise at dusk and embark on a blood-sucking binge until dawn, passing on the disease through their deadly bite.
There’s a significant risk of getting malaria if you travel to an affected area. It’s very important you take precautions to prevent the disease.
Malaria can often be avoided using the ABCD approach to prevention, which stands for:
- Awareness of risk – find out whether you’re at risk of getting malaria
- Bite prevention – avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, covering your arms and legs, and using a mosquito net
- Check whether you need to take malaria prevention tablets – if you do, make sure you take the right antimalarial tablets at the right dose, and finish the course
- Diagnosis – seek immediate medical advice if you have malaria symptoms, including up to a year after you return from travelling
It’s not possible to avoid mosquito bites completely, but the less you’re bitten, the less likely you are to get malaria.
To avoid being bitten:
- Stay somewhere that has effective air conditioning and screening on doors and windows. If this isn’t possible, make sure doors and windows close properly.
- If you’re not sleeping in an air-conditioned room, sleep under an intact mosquito net that’s been treated with insecticide.
- Use insect repellent on your skin and in sleeping environments. Remember to reapply it frequently. The most effective repellents contain diethyltoluamide (DEET) and are available in sprays, roll-ons, sticks and creams.
- Wear light, loose-fitting trousers rather than shorts, and wear shirts with long sleeves. This is particularly important during early evening and at night, when mosquitoes prefer to feed.
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