It is a disease that is older than humanity itself, causing 250 million cases of fever and one million deaths annually. Till date it remains one of the most infectious diseases in the entire world. Yes, we are talking of the good old malaria.
Malaria is an ancient disease caused by a protozoa called Plasmodium, having various subtypes including P.vivax, P. falciparum, P.ovale, P.malarie etc. The two most important varieties of malaria are P. vivax and P.falciparum. The former is called benign and the latter is known as malignant malaria, loosely. Though these protozoa cause the disease, they need a carrier, technically known as vector, which carries the pathogen but is not affected by it – the tiny menace called mosquito. There are several types of them, which carry this bug including Anopheles.
What happens inside the body?
Once an anopheles mosquito bites a host, the parasites are injected into the blood and they head straight towards the liver. There they divide at a jet speed for the next week, where a single parasite gives rise to 30,000 daughter parasites. The host is perfectly well at this stage. Then the distended liver cells burst open, releasing these daughter parasites into the blood stream of the host. The parasites receive perfect protection inside the blood cell and are not detected by the host’s immune system. They grow and divide again and the cycle is repeated. This uncontrolled growth and division leads to rapid destruction of red blood cells and instead of a normal span of 120 days, the RBCs live only for 12-14 days. It leads to severe anaemia or lack of red blood cells in the body, one of the characteristics of Plasmodium Falciparum malaria. It means that sufficient oxygen cannot be delivered to the body cells and this alone explains many of the malaria symptoms. It can cause serious kidney failure, affect vital organs like brain and intestines and even cause death.
There is an emergence of drug resistant strains of malaria worldwide on which conventional medicines may not be effective. Hence, proper medical guidance is mandatory. Delay in diagnosis and treatment in such case may lead to death especially in falciparum malaria.
Prevention is better than cure
The best way to prevent malaria is by avoiding mosquito bite. Always use mosquito nets, which are far superior to repellents like cream, coil or electric gadgets. Coils especially are injurious to the lungs and should never be lit around children and those with respiratory diseases like asthma. Formal Ultra Violet (UV) repellants are effective in close space.
Never allow water stagnation in and around household since most malaria mosquitoes breed in stagnant water. Old unused tyres, containers, construction sites are common breeding grounds. A community effort could be undertaken to prevent water stagnation in these areas. Clean your water tank at least once a week and change the water of your flower vase often. Involve children in these activities to make the initiative even more successful.
Government health advice and the World Health Organisation advocate prompt malaria treatment in endemic areas where there is no facility for malaria detection. Lately, malaria antigen testing is being used, which is much more sensitive than the conventional smear test has higher detection rate. It is a notifiable disease, i.e., when one is detected with malaria, the healthcare provider will inform it to the appropriate civic authority to ensure proper mosquito eradication measures.
If you are traveling to a malaria-prone area, do not forget to take appropriate prophylaxis by consulting your local healthcare provider and take precautions to protect yourself from the bite. While such measures are adequate for travelers, they are not applicable to the residents of the endemic area. A vaccine against this disease is yet to be developed, but with awareness and active prevention measures, we can win the battle against malaria with greater ease.
- Fever – Any unexplained high fever with chill and rigor should alert oneself about the possibility of malaria and appropriate action should be taken including malaria blood test and prompt treatment.
- Arthralgia or joint pain
- Extreme exhaustion
- Dark coloured urine and poor flow of urine
Home Care of a Malaria Patient:
- Always keep the patient inside the mosquito net.
- Strictly maintain hygiene.
- A normal diet can be given.
- Plenty of fluids needs to be given to the patient.
- Elderly people, infants and those who are sick have greater susceptibility, and are likely to have a greater morbidity and mortality in case of malaria. So if possible, keep them away from the patient, till he/she recovers.
- If the patient becomes unresponsive, delirious or comatose, immediately rush him/ her to the hospital with good intensive care facility.