Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are usually transmitted due to the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. These parasites swiftly multiply in the liver after being introduced in the host body, and destroy the red blood cells, thereby infecting the system. P. falciparum and P. vivax are considered to be the most fatal malaria species. Malaria has been in existence since the last 1,00,000 years and despite the progress made by science and medicine in controlling the disease, it continues to be one of the biggest killer of mankind.
“A study has found that in India, 274,000 deaths were caused due to malaria last year. Despite being a life-threatening disease, malaria can be cured and prevented with appropriate measures and quick action,” says Dr Abizer Manked, consulting physician and diabetologist, Saifee Hospital.
Scenario in India
As per reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO), India alone accounted for 89 per cent deaths due to malaria in the South Asian region in the year 2006, and over half of the nation’s population was prone to the disease. The organisation also says that since 2014, major outbreaks of dengue, malaria, chikungunya yellow fever and Zika have afflicted populations, claimed lives and overwhelmed health systems in many countries.
“Eleven years later, India indicated progress with a 24 per cent reduction in the number of malaria cases, due to which it has managed to make it to the list of top nations working towards eradicating the disease,” adds Dr Manked.
It is important for people to identify the symptoms of malaria early to avoid any unfortunate incidents or fatalities. Malaria symptoms are similar to those of flu, and thus, in many cases, remain undetected or even misdiagnosed. As a result, fever and chills are the most commonly occurring symptoms of malaria, which can cause damage in the short run. Others include severe headache, nausea and vomiting.
Depending on the species, the fever may come once every 24-48 hours. Impaired consciousness and convulsions along with respiratory distress are other symptoms of this disease, which if undetected, can lead to abnormal bleeding, respiratory failure, coma, jaundice, and even failure of vital organs.
Diagnosis and Treatment
WHO has recommended that all suspected malaria cases must be validated via parasite-based clinical testing, as it only requires 30 minutes to implement this procedure. Only when the test is unavailable, should one diagnose via observing symptoms.
The organisation also suggests using Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) for treating falciparum malaria, and Chloroquine -based therapy for vivax malaria. With the aim to remove the parasite from the bloodstream, the benefits of the procedure include — high efficiency, fast action, and reduced likelihood of resistance developing.
The intensity of the transmission of malaria depends on a range of factors including the type of parasite, the vector species, the condition of the host body, and the surrounding environment. This intensity will always be higher if the parasite belongs to the P. falciparum or P. vivax variety.
A majority of cases occur with the bite of an infected female anopheles mosquito that looks for a blood meal to nurture the eggs laid in shallow water bodies. One with a longer lifespan is more fatal as the parasite gets enough time to develop in the mosquito’s body.
Transmission of malaria further depends on climatic conditions like rainfall patterns, temperature fluctuation, and humidity. Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing the disease, and if not treated promptly, it can spread to the baby too.
As a mosquito bite is the most common cause of malaria, the most effective way to curb it and reduce transmission is via vector control, which is by using an Insecticide Treated Net (ITN), and to reduce the risk of contraction by providing a physical barrier and an insecticidal effect.
Another impactful prevention method is Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) with insecticides. However, it is mandatory to create and maintain a hygienic environment as mosquitoes tend to gather in damp and swampy conditions.