Malaria is a disease passed through the blood. It is typically passed to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito but can also be passed from mother to unborn child or during a blood transfusion from an infected donor.
Malaria is caused by a specific type of parasite.
Most often, a mosquito picks up the parasite when it bites someone with malaria. The mosquito can pass the parasite to a new person when it bites them.
Living in or traveling to hot, humid climates where Anopheles mosquitoes are common is the most common risk factor for malaria. Africa, Asia, and Latin America all have areas where malaria is common.
Your chance of getting malaria increases dramatically if prevention steps are not taken.
There are no symptoms in the early stage of infection.
Symptoms usually begin within 10 days to 4 weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Symptoms may include:
- Recurrent fevers—as high as 106° F (41.1° C)
- Chills and sweats
- Muscles aches
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Yellow coloring of the eyes and skin— jaundice
- Dark or discolored urine
Seek medical care right away if you suspect malaria or if you have traveled to an area of the world where malaria occurs.
You will be asked about your symptoms, medical history, and travel history. A physical exam will be done. Malaria will be diagnosed with blood tests. The blood test will also help identify the specific type of parasite causing your infection.
Prescription drugs are used to treat malaria by killing the parasites. The choice of an antimalarial agent depends on:
- Specific type of parasite
- Severity and stage of infection
- Area of the world you may have contracted malaria. Certain areas have types of malaria that are resistant to certain drugs.
Medications will also be given to reduce fever, which may shorten the infection time.
To reduce your chance of getting malaria when in a high-risk area:
- Visit with a travel clinic or your doctor before your trip. Review what preventive medications you may need.
- If required, take antimalarial medication before, during, and after travel. Follow your doctor's instructions.
- Use DEET insect repellent when outside. A higher percentage of DEET will protect your for a longer period of time.
- Use proper mosquito netting at night. Look for netting treated with insecticide.
- Do not rely on electronic mosquito repellents. These devices do not prevent mosquito bites.
- Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Avoid being outdoors from dusk to dawn. This is when mosquitoes are most active.
- Stay in air-conditioned or screened rooms when possible.
- Reviewer: David L. Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 06/2015 -
- Update Date: 06/19/2014 -