What is Malaria and how to treat it?

Annual bednet distribution
Annual bednet distribution

Malaria is a disease spread through the bites of infected mosquitoes, usually at night time. It is a preventable and treatable disease.

What is malaria?

Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, which is transmitted via the bites of infected mosquitoes. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver, and then infect red blood cells.

People with malaria often experience fever, chills, and flu-like symptoms. Left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die.

Different types of malaria

Malaria parasites are transmitted through the bite of infected female Anophelesmosquitoes, which bite mainly between dusk and dawn.

There are four parasite species that cause malaria in humans:

  • Plasmodium falciparum
  • Plasmodium vivax
  • Plasmodium malariae
  • Plasmodium ovale

Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax are the most common in Solomon Islands and in Honiara City. Plasmodium falciparum is the most deadly.

All of the malaria vector species bite at night. Transmission is more intense in places where the mosquito lifespan is longer, so that the parasite has time to complete its development inside the mosquito.

Transmission also depends on climatic conditions thataffects the number and survival of mosquitoes, such as rainfall patterns, temperature and humidity. In many places, transmission is seasonal, with the peak during and just after the rainy season.



Symptoms and signs of malaria

Symptoms can appear in 7 days after infection. And the time between exposure and signs of illness (incubation period) may sometimes be as long as 8 to 10 months with P. vivax and P. ovale.

The incubation period may be longer if you are taking medicine to prevent infection (chemoprophylaxis) or because you have some immunity due to previous infections.

Common symptoms of malaria are:

  • A slow rising fever that escalates to a rapid temperature rise and fall
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Chills and shivering
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Dry (non productive) cough
  • Muscle or back pain or both
  • Enlarged spleen

Symptoms may appear in cycles; which means you may start to feel better even though you still have malaria. The time between period of fever and other symptoms varies with the specific parasite you are infected with.

Episodes of symptoms may occur:

  • Every 48 hours if you are infected with P. vivax or P. ovale.
  • Every 72 hours if you are infected with P. malariae.
  • P. falciparum does not usually cause a regular, cyclic fever.

The cyclic pattern of malaria symptoms is due to the life cycle of malaria parasites as they develop, reproduce, and are released from the red blood cells and liver cells in the human body. This cycle of symptoms is also one of the major signs that you are infected with malaria.
In rare cases, malaria can lead to impaired function of the brain, convulsions, or loss of consciousness. Infection with the P. falciparum parasite can even lead to death.

Who is at a higher risk?

Specific population risk groups include:

  • Infants and children under five years of age: Majority of malaria deaths occur in children under five.
  • Pregnant women: Malaria in pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and low birth weight.
  • People with HIV/AIDS: HIV infection increases the risk of malaria infection, severe malaria and death, while malaria may result in the worsening of AIDS.
  • Mobile populations: Mobile population groups such as international travellers often lack partial immunity to malaria, and have limited access to prevention, diagnostic testing and treatment services.

What to do if you might have malaria?

If you think that you have the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, and may have been infected with malaria, please visit the nearest health facilities/clinics from your residence (or temporal accommodation) as soon as possible.

The nurse consults you first, and you get tested for malaria parasite. Parasite-based diagnostic test using a microscope or rapid test kit is strongly recommended to receive a proper medical treatment.

If you are tested positive of malaria, you will receive a malaria treatment drug (brand name – COARTEM).

Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and prevents deaths. It also contributes to reducing malaria transmission.The best available treatment, particularly for P. falciparum malaria, is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT).
What to do at home?

Follow the treatment guideline given at the health clinic and rest well. It is very important that you complete the course of medication in order to eliminate all the malaria parasites in your body. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Avoid mosquito bites by using repellents and always sleep under mosquito nets during the biting peak hours from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

Malaria rates in Honiara

Over the past decade, the people of Honiara have made a significant progress in reducing the number of malaria cases in the City. Our Programme continues to strive for protecting the City residents and visitors from malaria with a range of services we offer.

However, prevention efforts at each household – installing window screens, removing mosquito breeding sites, and sleeping under bed nets – are crucial step to further reduce malaria cases.

For more information, contact the HCC Vector Borne Disease Control Programme Office at 28295 or at the Health Division office; or contact the National Vector Borne Programme at 30655.

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