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Malaria is an infection of the red blood cells. It is typically passed to us through the bite of an infected mosquito, but can also be passed from mother to unborn child or during a blood transfusion from an infected donor.

Causes    TOP

Malaria is caused by a parasite. If an anopheles mosquito carries the parasite, it can be passed to us when the mosquito bites and draws blood. The parasite enters the body, settles in the liver, and multiplies. Eventually, the parasite will move into red blood cells, continues to reproduce, destroys red blood cells, and infects other red blood cells. This stage will cause symptoms.

Malaria Cycle

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Risk Factors    TOP

Living in or traveling to hot, humid climates where Anopheles mosquitoes are common. Africa, Asia, and Latin America all have areas where malaria is common.

Your chance of getting malaria increases dramatically if prevention steps are not taken.

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms usually begin within 10 days to 4 weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. They may take longer to develop if you took medications to prevent malaria. Symptoms may include:

  • Fevers—as high as 106° F (41.1° C)
  • Chills and sweats
  • Muscles aches
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Yellow coloring of the eyes and skin— jaundice
  • Dark or discolored urine

Seek medical care right away if you suspect malaria or if you have traveled to an area of the world where malaria occurs.

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms, medical history, and travel history. A physical exam will be done. Malaria will be diagnosed with blood tests. The blood test will also help identify the specific type of parasite causing your infection.

Treatment    TOP

Prescription drugs are used to treat malaria by killing the parasites. The choice of an antimalarial agent depends on:

  • Specific type of parasite
  • Severity and stage of infection
  • Area of the world you may have contracted malaria. Certain areas have types of malaria that are resistant to certain drugs.
  • Prevention medication you may have taken

Medication is most effective when taken as prescribed by your doctor.

Prevention    TOP

To reduce your chance of getting malaria when in a high-risk area:

  • Visit with a travel clinic or your doctor before your trip. Review what preventive medications you may need.
  • If required, take antimalarial medication before, during, and after travel. Follow your doctor's instructions.
  • Use DEET insect repellent when outside. A higher percentage of DEET will protect your for a longer period of time.
    • DEET is not recommended for infants < 2 months of age. Netting can help protect infants from bites.
  • Use proper mosquito netting at night. Look for netting treated with insecticide.
  • Do not rely on electronic mosquito repellents. These devices do not prevent mosquito bites.
  • Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
  • Avoid being outdoors from dusk to dawn. This is when mosquitoes are most active.
  • Stay in air-conditioned or screened rooms when possible.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization


Public Health Agency of Canada


Malaria: topic home. Center for Disease Control website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated May 6, 2015. Accessed January 16, 2018.
Malaria and travelers. Center for Disease Control website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated February 3, 2015. Accessed January 16, 2018.
Malaria. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 29, 2017. Accessed January 16, 2018.
8/31/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Enayati A, Hemingway J, Garner P. Electronic mosquito repellents for preventing mosquito bites and malaria infection. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(2):CD005434.
8/20/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Purssell E, While AE. Does the use of antipyretics in children who have acute infections prolong febrile illness? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Pediatr. 2013;163(3):822-8273.
10/1/2013 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance. Reimer LJ, Thomsen EK, Tisch Dj, et al. Insecticidal bed nets and filariasis transmission in Papua New Guinea. N Eng J Med. 2013;369(8):745-753.
Last reviewed May 2017 by David L. Horn, MD
Last Updated: 1/16/2018

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