5 Things You Need to Know About Malaria
The Big 5 animals – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – sometimes have a sixth animal added to them, because of its immense power to change human life: the mosquito.
This pesky little creature is the carrier of a disease that is still very dangerous and can prove fatal: malaria. Many world explorers, from Vasco da Gama and Amerigo Vespucci to David Livingstone, died of the disease, while some American presidents, including Lincoln and JFK, also contracted malaria but survived.
According to the latest statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2017 some 93% of the world’s malaria cases occurred in Africa, with more than 200 million people infected. The most vulnerable countries were Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Niger and Mozambique.
The WHO also reports that pregnant women and children aged under 5 years are the most vulnerable groups affected by malaria. In 2017 children under the age of 5 accounted for over 60% of malaria deaths worldwide.
Here are 5 things you should know about this disease:
1. Where you are most at risk, and what to do about it
Tropical and sub-tropical zones all over the world pose a risk, but Africa is where the most danger lurks. In South Africa, the north-eastern region of the country, bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe is a malaria danger zone. You are at risk of being infected by malaria in the Kruger National Park and the part of Mpumalanga between the Kruger and Swaziland, or the northern extremities of KwaZulu-Natal. Mozambique is a high-risk area, so be sure to see a doctor before any trips there.
The female anopheles mosquito will usually bite you between dusk and dawn, so you’re most vulnerable at night. Mosquitoes are most likely to flourish after bouts of rain, so summer is a more dangerous time.
Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the evenings, and spray yourself with a mosquito repellent that has DEET. Close doors and windows at night, and sleep under a treated mosquito net. You can also use a fan to blow the mozzies away, which will offset the heat associated with the long clothing and the closed doors and windows! Air conditioning can also help, but may not be 100% effective.
2. Malaria is caused by a female
The female anopheles mosquito carries the parasites that cause malaria in humans. The two most common parasites are plasmodium vivax and plasmodium falciparum. The latter is responsible for 99% of cases in Africa and around two-thirds of cases in South-East Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Pacific, while the former is more prevalent in three-quarters of cases in the Americas.
The bite of the infected female mosquito is where the problem starts. If infected with the parasite, the mosquito passes it on to the human whom it bites (it sucks blood to feed its larvae).
3. This is what malaria does to your body
The nasty critter that does the damage in malarial infections is a parasite from the plasmodium family, not a virus or a bacterium, as noted above. An uninfected mosquito bites an infected human and starts carrying the parasite. It then bites another uninfected human, passing the parasite onto them.
Once in the body, the parasite is carried to the liver, where it can lie in wait for up to a year. However, in most cases, infected humans will begin to show symptoms within 2 weeks. Mature parasites leave the liver and infect the red blood cells, which is when most people start to develop these symptoms. They include flu-like fever and chills, headache, muscle pain and fatigue as well as nausea and vomiting.
Left unchecked, the disease can cause brain swelling, anaemia, low blood sugar, breathing problems and organ failure.
4. Malaria is treatable and curable if caught in time
Children under 5, the elderly and people who come from low-exposure areas on holiday are most at risk, but especially if it is caught in time, malaria can be treated and cured, with people making a full recovery.
Speak to your doctor immediately if you have been to a high-risk area in the past few weeks and you start to show signs of having contracted the disease.
Better still, take preventative measures before you leave for a high-risk malaria area. Prophylaxis to prevent the malady is available and needs to be taken well in advance. Your doctor will be best able to advise you on timing.
5. Myths about malaria
Here are 3 quick myths about malaria:
- Garlic can repel mosquitoes: while it is true that this odour-filled condiment that tastes delicious on pizzas might repel a friend, mosquitoes will not be affected by its strong smell.
- Mosquitoes only bite at night: while it is true that your exposure is greatest at night from the anopheles mosquito, it is possible to be bitten by another type of mosquito during the day – one which may carry another type of dreaded disease, like dengue fever.
- Malaria can only be transmitted by mosquitoes: if a person comes into contact with the blood of an infected person, they are likely to get the disease. For example, intravenous drug users who share needles are at high-risk for malaria transmission. Pregnant mothers can also pass the disease onto their babies.
It’s better to be safe than sorry, so make sure that you look after yourself and your family.
For more information:
Visit the The World Health Organisation website
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.