Malaria Factsheet

What is malaria?

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Malaria is a mosquito-borne parasite that is found in over 100 countries and causes over 200 million infections and 400,000 deaths each year.

Malaria is transmitted by the infected bite of the Anopheles mosquito. While less likely, it can also be transmitted through blood transfusion or shared use of contaminated needles or syringes.

Parasites enter the bloodstream and will multiply in the liver and then infect the host’s red blood cells.

Most people infected with malaria will show common symptoms but infection can be severe and fatal. Young children, pregnant women and the elderly are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms and should consider avoiding travel to at-risk areas.

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent malaria infection. Antimalarial medications are readily available and recommended for travellers. Preventing mosquito bites also significantly reduces the risk of transmission.

Diagnosis of malaria is conducted by a blood test.

What are the symptoms of malaria?

The incubation period for malaria typically ranges from 9 – 40 days depending on the strain of malaria you have contracted. Malaria infections can become serious and must be treated with urgency.

Symptoms of uncomplicated malaria include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Body aches
  • Low energy, tiredness
  • It may also cause anemia and jaundice in some people.

Symptoms of severe malaria include:

  • Loss of consciousness or seizures
  • Severe anemia 
  • Respiratory distress 
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Acute kidney failure
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose)

Some strains of malaria can also cause a recurrence of symptoms months or years after having no symptoms. Preventive treatment for this is available and should be used.

Malaria should be treated as early as possible with anti-malarial drugs before it can become life-threatening.

Malaria prevention

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The Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit the disease are active at night and most likely to bite two hours after dusk and two hours before dawn.

  • Check the risk of malaria before you travel and visit your doctor or travel medicine professional 6-8 weeks before you travel.
  • Take antimalarial drugs according to prescription guidelines.
  • Wear clothing with long sleeves and long pants and if necessary treat with permethrin.
  • Use effective insect repellents on exposed skin. The best insect repellents for malaria recommended by the World Health Organisation are DEET and Picaridin.
  • When sleeping use an insecticide-treated net if not sleeping in enclosed and air-conditioned accommodation.
  • Cover cots, strollers and baby carriers with mosquito nets.

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