Facts and Questions about Malaria
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What is Malaria?
Malaria is a disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people by certain types of mosquitoes. Malaria parasites live in red blood cells and can cause fever, headache, vomiting and convulsions. If left untreated, malaria can lead to severe illness and death. Malaria is especially dangerous in young children and pregnant women. Only Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria parasites. There are four types of malaria parasites, but Plasmodium falciparum causes the most severe infections and is common in many countries in Africa.
How can malaria be treated?
People with malaria can be treated and cured by eliminating malaria parasites in their blood. Before treatment, anyone who is suspected of having malaria should be tested using a parasite-based diagnostic test, either with a rapid diagnostic test or by microscopy. For treatment of confirmed, uncomplicated malaria caused by P. falciparum, WHO recommends using the drug artemisinin in combination with another drug (artemisinin-based combination therapy [ACT]), which is usually given as a tablet. Proper treatment of people with malaria will reduce transmission of the infection to others, help eliminate the disease, and help prevent the spread of parasites that are resistant to antimalarial drugs.
How can malaria be prevented?
Malaria can be prevented by what is called vector control, preventing mosquitoes from biting. The two most effective ways to prevent malaria are using insecticide treated bed nets and spraying an insecticide on the interior walls of homes, called indoor residual spraying. Because pregnant women are vulnerable to malaria, in countries with moderate to high malaria transmission, WHO recommends that pregnant women take a preventive treatment referred to as intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp). In certain parts of the world, WHO now recommends that infants and children under 5 years of age take preventive treatment, referred to as intermittent preventive treatment in infants and seasonal malaria chemoprevention, respectively. Travelers can use antimalarials to prevent malaria.
Why are children under 5 at risk of malaria?
In areas where malaria transmission is high, children over 5 years of age usually acquire partial immunity by repeated exposure to the disease. For children under 5 and others who have not acquired immunity or have HIV, malaria infection can cause severe malaria, which can rapidly lead to death. In areas with malaria, children under 5 with a fever should be diagnosed for malaria within 24 hours of onset of a fever and promptly treated if they test positive for malaria.
Why is malaria so common in Africa?
Malaria is transmitted in tropical and subtropical areas where Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria parasites can survive and multiply, generally, in areas where temperatures are above 68°F (20°C). The climate in many parts of Africa below the Sahara Desert allows mosquitoes to transmit malaria year round. The major malaria parasite-carrying mosquito in sub-Saharan Africa is Anopheles gambiae, which can breed in many different types of habitats, including tire tracks and fields. The predominant parasite species, P. falciparum, unlike other species, can cause severe cases of malaria and death.
Is there a malaria vaccine?
Drug trials are underway for malaria vaccines, but there is not currently a vaccine in use for malaria. The parasite that causes malaria has a very complicated life cycle, and it has so far not been possible to make an effective vaccine against it.
However, there are antimalarial drugs that kill the parasites when they enter the liver or red blood cells. Along with insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and other preventives, they can help to protect against malaria
Milestones in the fight against malaria
- 1880s to 1890s — The parasite that causes malaria is identified and traced to mosquito transmission.
- Early 1900s — Spraying insecticides proves effective in reducing the incidence of malaria and yellow fever during construction of the Panama Canal and the U.S. occupation of Cuba.
- 1930s to 1950s — Federal spraying programs associated with the Public Health Service and Communicable Disease Center, later called the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), eliminate malaria transmission in the U.S.
- 1955 to 1970s — Attempts to eliminate malaria in other countries have more or less success depending on local conditions, the strength of the national health system, conditions of climate and development, and the capacity for carrying out malaria controls.
- 2002 — The Global Fund invests about $4 billion annually to fight malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis in locations of greatest need.
- 2006 — U.S. President George W. Bush’s malaria initiative commits $1.2 billion to fight malaria in 15 countries.
- 2015 — A landmark 1 billion bed nets have been distributed in Africa since 2000. The global incidence of malaria has been reduced by 37 percent and death rates by 60 percent since 2000, achieving Millennium Development Goal targets.
- 2016 — Global efforts are reported to have saved 6.8 million lives and prevented 1 billion malaria cases since 2000.
- 2017 — The U.S. malaria initiative expands to 24 countries and more than 90 million people in west and central Africa.
- Present to 2030 — Global malaria strategy targets 90 percent reduction in the incidence of malaria by 2030. About 216 million cases of malaria were reported in 2016, 5 million more than in 2015. Ninety percent of malaria cases and 91 percent of malaria deaths occurred in Africa.