Malaria - Detailed Info

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by the parasite sporozoan plasmodium. It is transmitted to humans and other vertebrates by the bite of an infected female mosquito (Anopheles mosquito) that had formerly sucked blood from a malaria infected being. The anopheles mosquito breeds in most tropical and many sub-tropical countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, and Asia. Roughly 40% of the entire global population is at the risk of malarial infection. At present, due to malaria more than 350 million people suffer from acute human illnesses, over and above at least one million deaths are caused annually. According to WHO (World Health Organization) bulk of malaria deaths take place among children in sub-Saharan Africa and one African child dies every 30 seconds. Though, malaria is a preventable and treatable disease, if not diagnoses and treated on time - the effects can be fatal. By diagnosing and treating malaria in the early stage, the period of the infection can be greatly reduced, which consecutively moderates the danger of complications and death.

The word malaria is an Italian word that hailed from 18th century, which is formed by two words “mala” meaning “bad” and “aria” meaning “air”. Almost certainly the term malaria was first used by Dr. Francisco Torti of Italy, when the outbreak of malaria made the people presume that foul air in marshy areas is responsible for the disease. It was not until 1880 that correct reason was discovered.

Five types of Malaria that exists are:
Plasmodium vivax (P. vivax) – It is a mild form of the disease which is usually not deadly. Though, the infected person still needs to take proper treatment since if not treated then in progressive stage it can cause a host of health problems. This type is the most prevalent and has the extensive geographic circulation worldwide. Approximately 60 percent of infected patients in India have P. vivax. This parasite resides in a liver stage and can stay in the human body for several years without causing illness. If the patient is not treated, upon progression the liver stage may re-activate and cause degeneration. In this case, malaria attacks after months or even years without symptoms. In this form, the appearance of symptoms after the first instance with infection takes place in 12 to 18 days. This is called the incubation period.

Plasmodium malariae (P. malariae) – It is again a mild form of the disease. Similar to P. vivax, the infected person must take treatment since its progression can lead to serious illnesses. This type of parasite stays in the blood of a few people for a number of decades. Incubation period in this case is 18 to 40 days.

Plasmodium ovale (P. ovale) – This type is same as that of P. vivax and incubation period is 12 to 18 days.

Plasmodium falciparum (P. faliparum) – It is the most grave form of the disease. It is most widespread in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. According to recent data, cases are now being reported in other areas of the world where this type was believed to have been eliminated. Incubation period of this form is 9 to 14 days

Plasmodium knowlesi (P. knowlesi) – This type causes malaria in macaques however can also communicate a disease to humans.

Transmission of Malaria among Humans
Since the parasite resides in human red blood cells, malaria can be transferred from one person to other through organ transplant, shared use of needles/syringes and blood transfusion. An infected mother may possibly forward malaria on to her infant during delivery/birth.  This type of malaria is called congenital malaria.

Symptoms of Malaria Fever
Areas where Malaria is prevalent people may have immunity or semi-immunity and therefore may show either no symptoms or some symptoms. The acuteness of the Malaria depends on the type of parasite, body’s immunity and whether person still have spleen.

Early phase symptoms of Malaria are high temperature/ fever, chills, headache, sweats, fatigue, nausea, vomiting. Symptoms may take place in cycles. Each time they appear they might do so at different degrees of severity. Duration of symptoms may also differ, depending on each cycle. Other widespread symptoms may include dry cough, back pain, muscle ache and enlarged spleen. Very infrequent symptoms may include mutilation of brain and spinal cord function, seizures or fits, loss of consciousness.

Treatments for Malaria fevers
Medicinal Treatment: The drugs that are commonly used for treating malaria are Artemisinin derivatives such as atovaquone-proguanil (Malarone), chloroquine, doxycycline, quinine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (Fansidar). A person with mild malaria can be taken care of as an outpatient whereas those with intense malaria need to be hospitalized. Infection with P. falciparum has severe symptoms, so if infected person is not able take oral medications, then the patient should be given treatment intravenously. Some drugs commonly used for treatment of malaria are offered as continuous intravenous infusions.

Herbal Treatment:
Artemisinin has amazing effects in curing malaria patients. In its initial clinical assessment, all patients who were given the herb felt improvement within hours and were healthier within days. Chinese herbal experts have been using the leaves of the Artemisia annua or sweet wormwood shrub for greater than 1500 years to treat malaria.

Another natural alternative, besides artemisinin, that could treat malaria and save millions of lives without drugs is garlic combined with the amino acid arginine.

Oregano oil besides acting as mosquito repellant is also effective in treatment of malaria since proponents of oregano oil have antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiparasitic and antibacterial properties.

Zinc plays a vital role in innumerable biological functions including protein synthesis, which further plays a main role in immunity. Vitamin A is also required for healthy immune function. Metabolism of Vitamin A depends on adequate amount of zinc in body and their deficiencies are often linked. In a study performed by researchers to assess the effectiveness of zinc and vitamin A in the treatment of malaria, about 150 infants and young children of age 6 to 72 months were enrolled. Half of the participants were given a single 200,000 IU dose of vitamin A, in addition to 10 mg of zinc for 6 days a week till 6 months whereas rest were given placebos. Statistics were taken at the beginning and at the end of the study. At the finish of the test interval, the defensive effects of zinc and vitamin A were observed in numerous different results. The incidence of malaria had reduced considerably in the zinc and vitamin A group in contrast to the placebo group. The average parasite density, proportion of children with anemia and number of occurrences of fever was also lower in supplemented group. Even though the children that received the supplements were still under the exposure of mosquitoes and several still became severely sick, the study confirms that vitamin A and zinc drastically decreased the prevalence of disease and intensity of illness.

People with exceptional nutrition and a well balanced immune system are invulnerable to malaria, similar to some people who are exposed to the common cold virus, influenza virus, and parasites like Entamoeba histolytica.

Preventing Malaria
Preventing mosquito bites – The simplest way of avoiding malaria is trying to lessen contacts between people and vectors of infection. A vector is an organism such as a mosquito or tick that carries disease causing microorganisms from one host to another. Controlling the breeding of mosquitoes can drastically decrease malaria infection rate as well as other mosquito-borne ailments.

Eliminating malaria from a region does not essentially mean getting rid of all the Anopheles mosquitoes that may spread the disease. Anopheles mosquitoes are still present in parts of North America and Europe, however, the parasite no longer exists. With improvement in living standard of people such as the installation of screened windows mutually with tactics to decrease vector populations, are extremely helpful. This has resulted in the overall eradication of malaria without entirely getting rid of the mosquito.

ITNs (Insecticide-Treated Bed Nets) - ITNs can significantly reduce the cases of malarial infection and mortality in an outbreak area. Using nets that have been treated with insecticide are much more defensive since they not only kill the mosquito and other insects, they also act as repellent.

Using anti-malarial medications - These drugs are not useful in preventing the parasite from entering into bloodstream however they prevent it from developing in the blood. This form of prevention is known as suppression.

New Developments
Researchers from The Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, Israel, believe that intervening with malaria's genetic cloaking may provide treatment for the disease and they have arrived at finding a cure for malaria. Working on this approach for several years, they have revealed a genetic cloaking device used by the parasite to dodge the human immune system so that it can institute infection. Now their target is to devise a treatment which intervenes with the cloaking device's DNA so that the human immune system would have a possibility to get rid of the infection for good.