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Definition

Malaria is an infection from a mosquito. It can cause severe flu-like illness. Sometimes it can be fatal. It needs to be treated right away.

Causes

It is caused by a mosquito bite. The mosquito passes parasites into the blood. They infect and destroy blood cells.

Rarely, malaria is spread by a transfusion of blood with parasites.

Malaria Cycle
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Risk Factors

The risk is highest for those who live in or travel to tropical climates. Malaria is most common in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Symptoms

Symptoms appear 10 days to 4 weeks after a mosquito bite. Common ones may be:

  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Muscles aches
  • Loss of hunger
  • Diarrhea

Sometimes there is also:

  • Yellow coloring of the eyes and skin— jaundice
  • Dark or discolored urine

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, and health and travel history. A physical exam will be done. Malaria is diagnosed with blood tests.

Treatment

The goal is to treat the infection. Medicine will be given to kill the parasite. The type of medicine depends on:

  • The type of parasite
  • Stage of infection
  • Medicines that were taken to prevent malaria
  • Other health conditions, such as pregnancy

Prevention

When traveling to areas where malaria is common, risk may be lowered by:

  • Taking medicine to prevent it
  • Avoiding mosquito bites by:
    • Covering up the skin
    • Using bug sprays, netting, and screens
RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
https://www.cdc.gov

World Health Organization
http://www.who.int

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Public Health Agency of Canada
https://www.canada.ca

Travel Health and Safety
https://travel.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Malaria. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/malaria/index.html. Accessed February 8, 2021.

Malaria. EBSCO DynaMed s website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/malaria Accessed February 8, 2021.

Malaria and travelers for US residents. Center for Disease Control website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/travelers/index.html. Accessed February 8, 2021.

Malaria prophylaxis for travelers. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/malaria-prophylaxis-for-travelers . Accessed February 8, 2021.

Misni N, Nor ZM, et al. Repellent effect of microencapsulated essential oil in lotion formulation against mosquito bites. J Vector Borne Dis. 2017;54(1):44-53.

Mosquito avoidance. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/mosquito-avoidance. Accessed February 8, 2021.

Last reviewed September 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 2/8/2021