Dr Tendai Zuze—
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite, transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. It kills an estimated 1 million people each year worldwide and hundreds locally. Because of the recent rains, there is an expected upsurge in the cases of malaria we will see.The following symptoms should get you at least worried about the possibility of malaria:
moderate to severe shaking chills
profuse sweating as body temperature falls
vomiting and diarrhoea
Malaria signs and symptoms typically begin within a few weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. However, some types of malaria parasites can lie silently in your body for months, or even years.
Malaria is caused by a type of microscopic parasite that’s transmitted most commonly by mosquito bites. The malaria parasite may also rarely be transmitted from mother to unborn child, through blood transfusions and sharing drug injection needles.
People who visit and live in areas where malaria is common are at biggest risk of developing the disease. If you grew up in a malaria area, you will have some natural immunity to the disease which will lessen the severity of malaria symptoms. There are many different subtypes of malaria parasites unfortunately the type found in Zimbabwe causes the most lethal complications and death.
Young children and infants, travellers from areas without malaria and pregnant women are prone to severe forms of malaria and death. Poverty, lack of knowledge, and little or no access to health care also contribute to malaria deaths worldwide.
Up to 90% of malaria deaths occur in Africa and in most cases, malaria deaths are related to one or more of these serious complications:
Cerebral malaria. If parasite-filled blood cells block small blood vessels to your brain (cerebral malaria), swelling of your brain or brain damage may occur. Cerebral malaria may cause coma.
Breathing problems. Accumulated fluid in your lungs (pulmonary oedema) can make it difficult to breathe.
Organ failure. Malaria can cause your kidneys or liver to fail, or your spleen to rupture. Any of these conditions can be life-threatening.
Severe anaemia. Malaria damages red blood cells, which can result in severe anaemia.
Low blood sugar. Severe forms of malaria itself can cause low blood sugar, as can quinine — one of the most common medications used to combat malaria. Very low blood sugar can result in coma or death.
There are various blood tests to determine whether you have malaria, which type and whether the disease has affected any of your vital organs. Treatment depends on the type of parasite present and other factors like severity of symptoms and your age. Drugs used in Zimbabwe include co-artemether, ASAQ and quinine. Resistance to chloroquine and fansidar has rendered them almost useless and these are now used for other conditions.
In countries like ours where malaria is common, prevention involves keeping mosquitoes away from humans. The following measures would be useful:
Spraying your home. Treating your home’s walls with insecticide can help kill adult mosquitoes that come inside.
Sleeping under a net. Bed nets, particularly those treated with insecticide, are especially recommended for pregnant women and young children.
Covering your skin. During active mosquito times, usually from dusk to dawn, wear pants and long-sleeved shirts.
Spraying clothing and skin. Various sprays are available for clothing and skin to repel mosquitoes.
Different types of drugs can also be used to prevent malaria especially when one is travelling to a high malaria area.
If you think you have malaria, please visit your doctor.