Malaria is a rare but serious blood disease caused by being bitten by an infected mosquito. It is not contagious and cannot be spread from one person to another. The condition triggers flu-like symptoms that can lead to major organ damage or even death.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1,500 malaria cases occur in the United States every year. Almost all cases occur in travelers and immigrants who have visited areas of the world where malaria rates are high. (It is most prevalent in Africa, Southern Asia, and South and Central America.) Globally, the condition causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
Preventing and treating Malaria
Currently, medication is available to treat malaria, but this isn’t always enough to clear the disease. The type of malaria a person has, the severity, the person’s age and other factors come into play. For these reasons, prevention is the best defense. Experts advise taking malaria medication to coincide with a trip to a country with high malaria rates. This consists of antimalarial drugs taken before the trip. At this point, a malaria vaccine is not available. However, a small 2013 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases study testing an investigational vaccine rendered encouraging results. Even so, the findings represent more of a conceptual advance – researchers say there’s still a long road ahead in terms of a vaccine.
If infection does occur, symptoms often resemble the flu. This includes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. These warning signs can last anywhere from 10 days to four weeks after becoming infected. Recent years have seen a rise in counterfeit malaria medications, which has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to crack down on the problem. According to the FDA, fake or substandard antimalarial drugs can do more harm than good. The organization reports that malaria kills more than half a million people worldwide every year.