Malaria is a life-threatening disease that affects millions of people. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there were 229 million cases of reported malaria worldwide in 2019, and over 400,000 people died. Those who died of malaria were mostly children in Africa.
People who contract malaria are at risk of developing sepsis. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.
What is malaria?
Malaria is a parasitic disease, spread infected mosquitoes. There are four types of malaria, but Plasmodium falciparum(P.falciparum) is the most deadly. The other types are P. vivax, P. malariae, and P. ovale.
Malaria is most frequently found in 108 countries and territories in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. It also affects people in Europe.
How do you get malaria?
You can only get malaria through an infected mosquito bite, specifically the Anopheles mosquito.
Malaria symptoms develop between 5 to 10 days after the bite. People infected with malaria may not notice the first few signs right away. They may chalk them up to just not feeling well or a mild virus. Symptoms include :
- Poor appetite
- Muscle aches
- Hypotension (low blood pressure, particularly when getting up from lying or sitting)
If left untreated, other signs and symptoms may include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
- Loss of consciousness
Treatment for malaria depends on the type of malaria you have and what country you were in when you contracted it. Over the years, some strains of malaria have become resistant to certain medications, mostly by geographical area.
Medications taken in pill or liquid form may be used for mild malaria, but once it has developed into a more severe form, intravenous (IV) treatment is needed.
The medications give are called antiparasitic medications. Just as antibiotics fight bacterial infections, antiparasitics fight parasitic infections. If you are taking the oral medications, it is essential that you take ALL the medication prescribed, even if you feel better before they are finished. By not finishing the prescription, you risk a relapse and the infection may become resistant to the medication.
If you are traveling outside of the country, you should verify if the country you are visiting has a malaria risk. If so, you can take medications that can prevent the disease.You may get this information from your doctor, a travel clinic, or local health department. The rule of thumb is medication should start two weeks before you travel, continued throughout the trip, and then for four weeks after returning home.
You should also actively try to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes. This means wearing long sleeves and pants if you are in affected area. Light-colored clothing is also helpful. Use approved mosquito repellant on any exposed skin and you may spray it on your clothing as well. Children have specific requirements so be sure to carefully read the instructions of the repellant and speak to your doctor or the staff at the travel clinic.
Since mosquitoes bite most at night, mosquito nets can help protect you when you sleep. Insecticide sprays before bed are also helpful.
If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.”
Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.
Updated April 11, 2022.