According to the World Malaria Report 2019 of the World Health Organization (WHO), there were about 228 million cases of this disease in 2018 worldwide. The report estimates that the global death burden of malaria was 405000 in the year. It also reveals that 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India carried almost 85% of the global malaria burden in 2018. There are flour types of parasites that can cause this mosquito-borne disease. One of them, known as Plasmodium falciparum, was highly prevalent in the WHO African region (99.7% cases) and South East Asian region (50% cases) in 2018. The incidence of P. vivax, another malaria-causing parasite was also high in the later (53% of the global burden) in the year. Out of the total number of P. vivax malaria cases in South East Asia, the majority were from India (47%) in 2018.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is a mosquito-borne parasitic disease characterised by high fever and chills. Transmitted through the bite of infected Anopheles mosquitoes, it can be caused by four parasites: Plasmodium (P) vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae, and P. falciparum. However, there can be other modes of transmission too. You can catch malaria if you are exposed to infected blood during transfusion or while sharing needles to inject drugs. A mother can also pass it on to the child at birth. The malaria parasites march to your liver after they sneak into your body. After maturing over there, they enter the bloodstream after a few days and attack your red blood cells. Once inside the red blood cells, these parasites take 48 to 72 hours to multiply. This makes your infected cells burst open. You start experiencing the symptoms of malaria as this process continues. P. falciparum leads to the most severe form of malaria. It can be fatal too.
It takes about 10 days to 4 weeks for malaria symptoms to manifest. In some cases, the parasite may even remain dormant for months. So, the manifestations also occur that late. The most common signs of malaria are fever, chills and shivers. These are followed by sweating and revival of normal temperature. If you suffer from this condition, you will experience the symptoms in such cycles. Apart from these prominent signs, malaria can come with other associated manifestations too. Here are some of them:
- profuse sweating
- abdominal pain
- muscle pain
- bloody stools
What causes Malaria?
As already mentioned, malaria is caused by Anopheles mosquitoes infected by parasites. You will fall in the high-risk group of malaria if you live in or visit areas with a high prevalence rate of the disease. The incidence of malaria is very high in places with tropical and subtropical climates. African countries and South East Asian regions record the highest number of malaria cases among others. Coming in contact with someone from a malaria-infested part of the world can also increase your chance of getting the disease.
Generally, people with malaria who reach out for treatment on time recover and lead a normal, healthy life. However, if it is caused by P. falciparum, malaria can be fatal too. Severe malaria can come with several complications like brain damage and organ failure. Both can be life-threatening. Some associated complications could also be breathing issues and anaemia.
Diagnosis of Malaria
If you experience the symptoms of malaria, consult a doctor immediately. After a detailed evaluation of your medical and travel history, he will perform a physical examination and detect enlarged spleen or liver. Your physician may advise a few blood tests for a confirmatory diagnosis. Here are some of them:
Thick and thin blood smears: This blood test conforms the presence of malaria parasites and also reveals the type of parasite you are infected with. This is crucial for deciding treatment modality.
Antigen Testing: This is a quick option which only detects the presence malaria parasite but can’t tell your doctor about the type or severity of infection.
Molecular test: It is recommended if the results of your blood smear test don’t give a clear picture about the type and severity of your infection.
Drug resistance test: In some cases, malaria parasites can be resistant to drugs. Your physician can suggest a blood test to figure out which drugs can work against the parasite.
Additionally, other blood tests can also be recommended for complications that are associated with malaria.
Treatment of Malaria
The line of treatment varies depending on the type of parasite that has infected you and the severity of the condition. The intention is to control fever, seizure and replenish fluids and electrolytes. The most commonly prescribed drug for malaria is chloroquine. However, it has been found that P. falciparum is resistant to this drug. The other anti-malarial drugs include Quinine, Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), Artemether and lumefantrine (Coartem), Atovaquone (Mepron), Proguanil (sold as a generic), Mefloquine, Clindamycin (Cleocin) and Doxycycline.
There is no specific diet for this mosquito-borne disease. However, the right foods will help you battle malaria better by revving up your immune system. They will also ensure that your vital organs, kidney, liver or the digestive system function well as you heal. Have small, frequent meals through the day when suffering from malaria. Here are some dietary changes that will help you manage malaria better.
Load up on carbohydrate: You are likely to feel low on your energy levels when you are suffering from an infection including malaria. Carbohydrates boost your energy. Also, choose rice instead of wheat and millets because it will be easier on your stomach.
Have a lot of vitamins: A growing body of research suggests that fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins A and C are good for boosting the immunity of malaria patients. Fresh fruits and vegetables work wonders for malaria patients. Beetroot, carrot, papaya, grapes, berries, lemon, and orange will be good options.
Take plenty of fluids: Loss of appetite is the common complaint among malaria patients. Fluids can be your saviour if you don’t like to have solid foods. They will also keep you hydrated. Glucose water, fresh fruit juices, coconut water, and electoral water among others can be your go-to options. They will also help in flushing out toxins from your body.
Include more proteins in your meals: A protein-rich diet will optimise the function of your immune cells and help you fight the malaria parasites. Include fish stew, chicken soup, eggs, and pulses in your meals. Curd, lassi and buttermilk will also be helpful.
Avoid these foods: Avoid foods loaded with fats, especially dairy products. They won’t be easy on your stomach. Deep fried and spicy foods should also be avoided when you are suffering from malaria. Stay away from chips, pastries, sauces, pickles and caffeinated beverage.
Prevention of Malaria
With some simple yet effective precautionary measures, one can prevent malaria. Here are some of them which you can try:
- Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, be it a nallah near your house, a pond in the neighbourhood or a water puddle near your house. Get them closed, cleaned up as soon as possible. Even plants in pots, bird baths, fountains, etc should not hold stagnant water. The water in the swimming pools needs to be circulated and chlorinated. If you store water in the house due to its shortage, close the container.
- Use mosquito screens, nets, fibre glass meshes or magnetic insect repellent screens for your windows if you live in a mosquito-infested area.
- If possible, avoid the time immediately after dusk to venture out especially so for children. However, if you must, wear clothes that cover your body to a large extent. Cover the exposed parts with a mosquito repellent.
- Indoor residual spraying with an insecticide is also recommended.
- Insecticide treated bed nets should be used in areas where mosquitoes and malaria are rampant.