Definition of Malaria

Reviewed on 3/29/2021

Malaria: An infectious disease caused by protozoan parasites from the Plasmodium family that can be transmitted by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito or by a contaminated needle or transfusion. Falciparum malaria is the most deadly type.

The symptoms of malaria include cycles of chills, fever, sweats, muscle aches and headache that recur every few days. There can also be vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and yellowing (jaundice) of the skin and eyes. Persons with severe falciparum malaria can develop bleeding problems, shock, kidney and liver failure, central nervous system problems, coma, and die. Travelers to areas with malaria are advised to take medications to prevent infection if exposed. The treatment of malaria is with oral or intravenous medications, including chloroquine, mefloquine (Larium), or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone).

Malaria transmission occurs primarily between dusk and dawn because of the nocturnal feeding habits of Anopheles mosquitoes. One should therefore take protective measures to reduce contact with mosquitoes, especially during these hours. These measures include remaining in well-screened areas, using mosquito nets, and wearing clothes that cover most of the body.

Additionally, one should have insect repellent for use on exposed skin. The most effective repellent against a wide range of vectors is DEET (N,N-diethylmetatoluamide), an ingredient in many commercially available insect repellents. The actual concentration of DEET varies widely among repellents. DEET formulations as high as 50% are recommended for both adults and children > 2 months of age.

Travelers not staying in well-screened or air-conditioned rooms are advised to use a pyrethroid-containing flying-insect spray in living and sleeping areas during the evening and nighttime hours. They should sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets. Bed nets are more effective if they are treated with permethrin or deltamethrin insecticide; bed nets may be purchased that have already been treated with insecticide.

Among the many names for malaria are ague, jungle fever, marsh or swamp fever, and paludism.


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