What is malaria?
Malaria is a disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people by certain types of mosquitoes. Malaria parasites live in red blood cells and can cause fever, headache, vomiting and convulsions. If left untreated, malaria can lead to severe illness and death. Malaria is especially dangerous in young children and pregnant women. Only Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria parasites. There are four types of malaria parasites, but Plasmodium falciparum causes the most severe infections and is common in many countries in Africa.
How can malaria be treated?
People with malaria can be treated and cured by eliminating malaria parasites in their blood. Before treatment, anyone who is suspected of having malaria should be tested using a parasite-based diagnostic test, either with a rapid diagnostic test or by microscopy. For treatment of confirmed, uncomplicated malaria caused by P. falciparum, WHO recommends using the drug artemisinin in combination with another drug (artemisinin-based combination therapy [ACT]), which is usually given as a tablet. Proper treatment of people with malaria will reduce transmission of the infection to others, help eliminate the disease, and help prevent the spread of parasites that are resistant to antimalarial drugs.
How can malaria be prevented?
Malaria can be prevented by what is called vector control, preventing mosquitoes from biting. The two most effective ways to prevent malaria are using insecticide treated bed nets and spraying an insecticide on the interior walls of homes, called indoor residual spraying. Because pregnant women are vulnerable to malaria, in countries with moderate to high malaria transmission, WHO recommends that pregnant women take a preventive treatment referred to as intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp). In certain parts of the world, WHO now recommends that infants and children under 5 years of age take preventive treatment, referred to as intermittent preventive treatment in infants and seasonal malaria chemoprevention, respectively. Travelers can use antimalarials to prevent malaria.
Why are children under 5 at risk of malaria?
In areas where malaria transmission is high, children over 5 years of age usually acquire partial immunity by repeated exposure to the disease. For children under 5 and others who have not acquired immunity or have HIV, malaria infection can cause severe malaria, which can rapidly lead to death. In areas with malaria, children under 5 with a fever should be diagnosed for malaria within 24 hours of onset of a fever and promptly treated if they test positive for malaria.
Why is malaria so common in Africa?
Malaria is transmitted in tropical and subtropical areas where Anopheles mosquitoes and malaria parasites can survive and multiply, generally, in areas where temperatures are above 68°F (20°C). The climate in many parts of Africa below the Sahara Desert allows mosquitoes to transmit malaria year round. The major malaria parasite-carrying mosquito in sub-Saharan Africa is Anopheles gambiae, which can breed in many different types of habitats, including tire tracks and fields. The predominant parasite species, P. falciparum, unlike other species, can cause severe cases of malaria and death.