Malaria Causes and Risk Factors
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Generally, malaria is an infectious disease caused by Plasmodium which is a parasite that infects red blood cells. There are five types of malaria which are Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale, Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium knowlesi. Malaria is usually transmitted from human-to-human by the Anopheles mosquito. Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease.
Malaria happens when there are repeated cycles of chills, fever, pain, and sweating. This usually happens due to the spread through the bite of an infected female mosquito. Referring to Dr Charlie Easmon (2009), malaria is passed on by the female Anopheles mosquito that bites a person who has malaria parasites in their blood. When this happens, the parasites develop in the intestine and salivary glands of the mosquito and it will be passed on to other people the next time the mosquito bites. In man, the parasite travels to the liver via the blood and then out into the bloodstream again, where it invades the red blood corpuscles. The red blood corpuscle is the cells which carry oxygen in the blood. Not only that, Malaria can also be passed on by blood transfusions and the use of infected needles. According to Kevin Marsh (2002), after injection is carried out the parasite which is known as sporozoites will circulate for only a few minutes in the blood. This will happen before they find their way into the host's liver cells. In the host's liver cell, they tend to divide rapidly over a week plus. Then the single parasite will give rise to around 30 000 daughter parasites. These parasites are also known as merozoites. The host is completely alright even after a period of divisions. After which, the now distended liver cell will burst open, releasing the merozoites into the blood stream. However, this can only happen if they rapidly attach to and enter the host's red blood cells. Now the parasite is in a protected environment. It has been shielded from detection or attack by the host's immune system. Inside the red blood cell, the parasite will grow again and divide. This time forming up to 32 daughter merozoites. After a period of around 48 hours, the host red blood cell will then burst releasing merozoites into the blood to repeat the whole cycle once again. During this repeated cycle, release and reinvasion leads to an exponential explosion of parasites in the blood . unchecked the progeny from a single parasite in the liver could lead to the destruction of all the host's red blood cells within 12 and 14 days. Hence, that is how malaria develops in the body.
According to Malar J (2012), statistics have proven that malaria is the most deadly and it is usually found in large numbers in Africa. The problem of malaria is very severe in Ethiopia where it has been the major cause of illness and death for many years. According to records from the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, 75% of the country is infected with malaria with about 68% of the total population living in areas at risk of malaria. This proves that more than 50 million people are at risk from malaria and four to five million people are affected by malaria annually. Based on The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (2005), malaria in Eritrea is a major public health problem with around 67% of the population living in areas at risk for the disease. Malaria has accounted for approximately one-quarter of all hospitalizations in Eritrea and has significant economic impact on the population, particularly as it is considered the leading cause of death among those 5 years and above and the third leading cause of death for under 5 years of age. Thus, that is the prevalence for the development of malaria. Based on Kids Health (2013), statistics have proven that worldwide, there has been approximately 300-500 million people are infected with malaria each year. Most cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 2 million people dying there each year. Asia, Latin America, and parts of Europe are also affected by malaria. Malaria is rare in the United States, with only about 1,300 cases reported each year over the last 10 years. Most of these cases occurred in travelers, military personnel, and immigrants who had become infected by malaria parasites outside the United States.
There are a few risk factors associated with malaria. Referring to Vital Health Zone (2010), one of the risk factors for the increase in malaria is found in babies and children. They are categorized under young adults whereby they are prone to this develop this disease easily. This is probably due to malaria zones in developing countries. In contrast to that, countries that are prone to have an increase in malaria cases especially during certain seasons happen because these countries does not take precautions to prevent malaria prior to the travel. Therefore, to reduce the risk of malaria from spreading among young adults and in countries, extra precaution should be taken. Awareness should be planted in the public's mind to prevent malaria from increasing each day. Not only that, contaminated blood and syringes can also cause the spread of malaria among people. Contaminated blood simply means when a blood transfusion is carried out, there is a high risk of developing malaria in the recipient of the blood transfusion. This is because blood transfusion might be contaminated with the parasite that causes malaria. Thus, there will be a spread of the parasite among the recipient of the blood transfusion. As for contaminated syringe, sharing needles can cause the spread of malaria. This is because there is a high risk that the needle might be contaminated. Thus, this causes the transmission of the disease. Hence, to reduce the risk of malaria in contaminated blood and syringe, make sure syringes are only used once to prevent contamination and transmission of this disease. This applies to blood transfusion as well. When blood transfusion is held out, the blood donated should not be contaminated with any form of disease. Needles should only be used once for every transfusion carried out. This is to prevent malaria from spreading any further. Besides that, there is a risk of malaria if our skin is uncovered and bare when we head out. This usually happens during the night whereby there might be mosquitoes that carry the Plasmodium parasite causing malaria especially at damp places. Thus, to reduce this risk, it is advisable to not go out with bare skin during the night. We should wear full length clothing to prevent the bite of mosquitoes that might carry the Plasmodium parasite. Moreover, visiting swamps or jungles is also another risk factor of malaria. This is because swampy, damp and marshy areas or in the jungle are a breeding ground for mosquitoes. These places are a high risk area for being bitten by a mosquito carrying the Plasmodium parasite. Therefore, to reduce the risk of being bitten, precautions should be taken when we enter jungles or swamps. Make sure mosquito repellent or ointment is applied to our bodies. We should also avoid going to damp places as they are a breeding area for mosquitoes. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012), risk factors for malaria are often caused by human activities that can create breeding sites for larvae such as standing water in irrigation ditches and burrow pits. Thus, to awareness plays a very important role in ensuring human activities does not cause the increase in malaria cases. On the other note, agricultural work such as harvesting which is also influenced by climate, may force increased night time exposure to mosquito bites. Hence, to reduce this risk, agricultural work should be put to good use. For example, pesticides should be used to prevent the growth of mosquitoes.
Alongside with the risk factors and ways to reduce the risk of this disease, there are also many symptoms of this disease. The most general symptoms are headache, nausea, fever, vomiting and flu-like symptoms. Based on NHS Choices (2012), the symptoms of malaria can develop as quickly as seven days after we are bitten by an infected mosquito carrying the parasite. Typically, the incubation period which is the time frame between being infected and when symptoms actually start is about 10 to 15 days. However, in some cases it can take up to a year for symptoms to develop completely. The initial symptoms of malaria are flu-like symptoms. This may include a fever, headache, sweats, chills and vomiting. This is often very mild and sometimes this may be difficult to be identified as malaria. There are other symptoms of malaria which includes muscle pains, generally feeling unwell and constantly suffering from diarrhea. Depending on some types of malaria, the fever usually occurs in a 4 to 8 hour cycle. We will feel cold then start to shiver that might last for up to an hour. Then, we will develop a fever that will prolly last for 2 to 6 hours which is then accompanied by severe sweating. According to Mayo Clinic (2011), malaria infection is generally characterized by recurrent attacks with symptoms such as moderate to severe shaking chills, high fever and profuse sweating as body temperature falls which begins showing after within a week of being bitten by an infected mosquito.
Next up is the effects of malaria. Based on Malaria.com (2012), malaria has a quite a lot of effects on the body. First and foremost, the parasite passes from the blood whereby it enters via the bite of an infected mosquito into the liver. This is where it reproduces and changes its form. After a period of 1-4 weeks or a week plus in the liver, the malaria parasite will then re-enter the blood. It then begins to infect red blood cells, undoing more reproduction inside the cells and resulting in bursting out once the cycle is complete. Thus, when the cell undergoes this process of reproduction and destroying red blood cells, it results in a build-up of toxins and debris in the blood. One particular type of malaria known as Plasmodium falciparum is also able to modify the surface form of red blood cells it infects. It causes these cells to become sticky; hence they lodge in the small blood vessels leading up to major organs of the body. This is known as sequestration which results in reduced blood flow and oxygen deprivation in the organs. When this occurs in the blood vessels of the brain, the patient may experience impaired consciousness, psychological disruption, coma and even death. This condition is known as cerebral malaria.
Like every other disease, there is method of treatment for malaria. Referring to Arthur Schoenstadt (2009), malaria treatment that is recommended will depend on the species of the infecting parasite, the area where the infection was acquired, the severity of malaria, the patient's age, pregnancy, drug allergies and other medications taken by the patient will be taken into consideration. There are many medications that are used for treating malaria. Usually, the medication is taken by mouth. Patients with severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria, or for those who cannot take medications by mouth, can be given the treatment through an intravenous line (IV). In some countries except the United States, some antimalarial drugs are found in suppository form. Specific medications used for treating malaria are such as Chloroquine, Mefloquine, Atovaquone-proguanil, Sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, Quinine, Doxycycline and Artemisin derivatives. In addition to that, the medication primaquine can be used to treat the forms of malaria parasites that may lay dormant in the liver. This is because it can help prevent malaria relapses that such parasites might cause. Pregnant women should not take primaquine. Not only that, people who are deficient in G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) should not take the drug. Patients should not take primaquine until a screening test has excluded G6PD deficiency.
As an overall conclusion, malaria can be transmitted fast from one individual to another if precautions are not taken. People should be aware of how this disease is transmitted and what triggers this disease from happening. The prevalence of this disease can be reduced worldwide if safety measures are taken into consideration. Actions should be taken immediately if a person displays symptoms of malaria. Hence, everyone should strive together to prevent this disease from deteriorating any further.
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