The causative agent of malaria is a tiny, single-celled parasite, Plasmodium, which is transferred from human to human by a female mosquito of the Anopheles genus. There is no other way of transmission of the disease, and therefore Plasmodium can not enter the blood if you are not bitten by female anopheles that previously sucked the blood of people who suffer from malaria. (In very rare cases, the disease can be transmitted by transfusion.)
Once inside the bloodstream, parasites are going into the liver where they rapidly multiply. A few days later, thousands of parasites re-enter the blood where destroy red blood cells. However, in most cases many parasites remain in the liver, where they multiply, and only occasionally enter the bloodstream. Therefore, people who suffer from some type of malaria have recurrent seizures if left untreated.
Particularly dangerous type of malaria is caused by Plasmodium falciparum, one of the four species of Plasmodium that attack humans. In an person, suffering from this type of malaria, all parasites at once enter the bloodstream from the liver. Therefore, there is only one attack of the disease, which is extremely difficult.
Initially, there are no symptoms. Nine to thirty days after the bite (depending on the type of Plasmodium) patient will have a headache, he will feel fatigue and nausea, and this is followed by the so-called “classical febrile paroxysm”, i.e. a typical attack of malaria. The attack lasts 12 to 24 hours and begins suddenly, with chills. What follows is a fever without sweating and accelerated breathing, and then sweating accompanied by a drop in temperature. Similar attacks occur whenever a greater number of parasites reaches the bloodstream (which generally occurs every two to three days).
If the disease is left untreated, attacks may occur for years, even though the patient gradually acquired resistance against the disease, so the frequency of seisures is decreasing. Malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum is different in a way that fever attack (febrile paroxysm) usually lasts two to three days, it is extremely difficult, and does not occur again.
Children affected by malaria are prone to long periods of fever without chills; fever (i.e. its effect on the brain) can sometimes cause unconsciousness or convulsions (febrile convulsions).
Since parasites (that cause malaria) destroy red blood cells, anemia can develop. In addition, damaged cells are collecting into small groups which could occlude the blood vessel and cause damage to the brain or the kidneys. The most dangerous, if left untreated, is malaria caused by a parasite Plasmodium falciparum, as it may cause fatal delays in the blood vessels of brain or other vital organs.
What to do?
If you notice symptoms of malaria after a trip to a tropical or subtropical country, consult a doctor immediately. Do not forget to tell him where you were and how long. The doctor will probably refer you to the blood test to a local hospital or center for tropical diseases. The presence of the parasite is not always easy to detect, and, therefore, you will have to stay in the hospital for repeated blood tests.
Self-help: If you plan to travel in a malarial area, protect yourself against infections with antimalarials (drug against malaria), which will be prescribed by physician. You need to start taking medicines before the trip, and continue taking them one month after your return.
Professional help: If you think you may get malaria, your doctor will prescribe a course of medication to prevent infection. If blood tests show that you are sick with malaria, you will start taking medication immediately. Today, the market is constantly occurring new and more effective drugs against malaria. With appropriate treatment, symptoms can be alleviated for a few hours, although the treatment should be continued for several weeks to prevent recurrence (return) of the disease.