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Malaria is caused by a parasite. It is passed to humans by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. These mosquitoes are found in the tropics and subtropics in almost all countries. Nearly all cases of malaria in the U.S. occur in people who have traveled to other countries. Treatment removes the parasite from the blood.
After the parasites enter the body by a mosquito bite, they disappear from the circulating blood within an hour and gather in the liver. After several days, infected red blood cells (RBCs) emerge from the liver and infect other RBCs.
Malaria is caused by when you are bitten by an Anopheles mosquito that is infected by a Plasmodium species parasite. There are several different species of Plasmodium that can infect humans and cause illness. Some cause more serious problems than others do. One type in particular can be life-threatening and may cause liver and kidney failure. Another can remain dormant in the liver for many months or years.
The risk of getting malaria depends on:
Early stages of malaria may be similar to the flu. The following are the most common symptoms of malaria. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Symptoms of malaria usually appear from 7 to 30 days after the mosquito bite. However, malaria they can develop as early as 6 to 8 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito or as late as several months after leaving an area where there is malaria.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for malaria may include blood tests to rule out other possible infections. Infected red blood cells from a person's blood sample can also often be seen under the microscope.
Specific treatment for malaria will be determined by your health care provider based on:
Malaria can be treated effectively in its early stages, but delaying treatment can have serious consequences. Treatment for malaria will vary depending on the country where you were infected and the severity of the disease.
Treatment involves taking medications that kill the parasite in the blood.
Complications of malaria are more common with falciparum malaria, which is the most potentially life-threatening. People with severe falciparum malaria may develop liver and kidney failure, convulsions, and coma.
Malaria can be prevented by the use of antimalarial drugs and protection measures against mosquito bites.
When planning to travel to an area where malaria occurs, talk with your health care provider well in advance of your departure. Drugs to prevent malaria can be prescribed, but travelers from different countries may receive different recommendations. Travelers visiting only cities or rural areas where there is no risk of malaria may not need preventive drugs. An exact itinerary is necessary to determine what treatment you need.
There are several medications to prevent malaria in travelers. Determining which medication is best depends on several factors, such as your medical history and the amount of time before your scheduled departure. For treatment to be effective, you must take the medication exactly as prescribed. These medications must be started before you arrive at your destination and continued for a specific number of days or weeks after your return, depending on which medication is prescribed.
Be aware that you are still at risk for malaria even with the use of protection.
To avoid mosquito bites, the CDC recommends the following:
Note: According to the CDC, vitamin B and ultrasound devices do not prevent mosquito bites. Important, current information about prevention and precautions is available online from the CDC.
If you become ill with a fever during or after travel in a malaria risk area, seek prompt medical attention and tell your health care providers of your recent travel. Don’t assume you have the flu or some other disease without completing a lab test to determine if the symptoms are caused by malaria.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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