Malaria, A Centuries-Old Threat

Malaria Control Montgomery, Alabama

What Is Malaria?

Malaria is one of the more well-known diseases that is also one of the most severe, especially in certain areas of the world.

It can be fatal and has been a major health problem in the United States, although it was eliminated in the early 1950s.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease.

History and Origin

Malaria ¹ has actually been recognized for centuries as a cause of illness and death.

The Chinese were detailing the symptoms of the disease in 2700 BC, but the parasite that causes it wasn’t discovered until 1880 by French surgeon Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran. 2

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Several years later, researchers discovered that Malaria was caused by a number of different types of parasites.

Malaria Outbreaks

Malaria Control Mosquito Spraying Panama Canal Zone
Panama Canal Zone, Central America, 1912

Pictured above, “Man spraying kerosene oil into ponds, water-filled trenches, etc., to protect against mosquitoes carrying malaria. 1912.” ~ Image source 3

A major outbreak of Malaria occurred during the construction of the Panama Canal due to the large amount of open, stagnant water in the area.

This outbreak was fairly alarming to the U.S. Public Health Service, and they began to research how to control both yellow fever and Malaria.

By 1946, the Communicable Disease Center, now known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 4, was in charge of eliminating Malaria from the U.S. This was successfully done by 1951.

Attempts to eliminate Malaria worldwide have not yet been as successful.

How it Spreads

In 1897, it was discovered that malaria was transmitted via mosquito.

It can be passed from mosquitoes biting one infected person, then passing the virus on to others. However, Malaria can also rarely be spread from mother to child, by sharing needles, or via blood transfusion.

Once in the body, the Malaria virus first moves to the liver, where it begins to multiply before it moves into the bloodstream to infect red blood cells.

Symptoms

Malaria Symptoms Diagram
Main symptoms of malaria. Image source 5

Because Malaria symptoms are similar to the flu or other illnesses at first, some who have the disease do not immediately to go the doctor.

Once they do see a healthcare professional, a blood smear has to be done to identify the parasite. An antigen test can be done to quickly diagnose Malaria, but a blood smear should still be done to confirm such a test.

The symptoms of Malaria are fairly diverse, and they often don’t show up until some time has passed.

The incubation period, in fact, is anywhere from seven to 30 days.

Malaria is divided into two types:

  1. Uncomplicated
  2. Severe

Uncomplicated Malaria symptoms include:

  • headache
  • chills
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • body aches, and
  • feeling weak

People may have Malaria attacks during which they go from feeling very cold and running a fever to sweating and tired. These symptoms cycle between six and 12 hours.

Severe or complicated Malaria is much more severe.

Symptoms include:

  • kidney failure
  • anemia
  • seizures
  • confusion
  • unconsciousness, and
  • cardiovascular collapse

Treatment

Malaria is treated with antibiotics.

The type needed depends on which species of the Malaria parasite are the cause of the illness, how severe the symptoms are, and if the person has been to a part of the world where drug resistance has been noted.

If caught early, Malaria can easily be treated.

Prevention

There is no Malaria vaccine currently available due to the fact that there are a number of parasites out there that cause Malaria and what works on one doesn’t work on another.

Footnote(s)

1 Visit Wikipedia to learn more about Malaria.

2 Visit Wikipedia and learn more about Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran.

3 Image Source: By The Field Museum Library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

4 History of name changes by CDC

5 Image Source: By Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 20018762. (All used images are in public domain.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons